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Kris Kringle

We met on Craigslist. He apologized for not getting that pony to me when I was six. I forgave him, because who could hold a grudge? There was no PR rep, no agent. After so many unanswered letters in my youth, it took just a few emails. An interview, it turns out, is easier to deliver to a city than a farm animal. It never occurred to me — even in those early years that are marked by incessant asking — to put Santa himself on my list.

My first false assumption was that we’d only have fifteen minutes to talk. I imagined him as a park ranger putting out endless fires, and then as a counselor easing the worries of a thousand anxious elves. Other times, I imagined a snowbound Marlon Brando, someone who got so famous that the only option was to live in a secluded place and emerge when the job demanded it. A mirage in the desert can take different shapes. What matters is whether you’re still saying to yourself, “Yeah, that’s definitely real.”

That initial assumption went the way of most assumptions. For someone whose job is said to kick into high gear in the coming weeks, Kris had time, enough even for lunch. (He ordered a Reuben. We split chicken fingers as an appetizer.) After spending a few hours with him, I realized how much he’s like December’s other big star, the New Year’s Eve ball. People prepare for months in advance until one night, everyone looks up and waits for him to drop.

He delivers presents. He follows baseball. He knows movies. He quotes Aristotle and Meat Loaf. That’s a guy I can believein.

There’s a lot of debate about whether or not you actually exist. Are you real?

KK: Of course I’m real. We couldn’t very well be sitting here together if I weren’t real. I’m real in the flesh, but more importantly, I think, is that I’m real in people’s hearts, especially around Christmas. I think that makes me as real as you can be.

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Where were you born?

KK: This is a very little known fact, and believe it or not, no one has ever asked me. I was born in a little town called What Cheer, Iowa a long, long time ago — long before anyone else. If you were thinking of asking me how old I am, don’t. I never say. I used to answer it, but people didn’t believe me, so it’s just easier not to.

Kris Kringle, Santa Claus, Saint Nick – what’s on your birth certificate?

KK: Very good, probing questions! Kris Kringle is what’s on the birth certificate.

Describe yourself at the age of 16.

KK: I guess the first things would be clean-shaven and fit. And then later when I started the beard, it was a red beard. Now that’s just a fond memory.

How many languages do you speak?

KK: There’s so much legend that has surrounded me that I think people confuse me with the United Nations and with computers. I’m supposed to know everything all the time. I don’t know how that started. I speak English and I dabble in a few other langu

ages, but I wouldn’t call myself fluent in all languages.

Is it worth getting into the specifics of your job? Could you ever explain the logistics of getting to every house? Of reading every letter sent to you?

KK: It’s surprisingly simple, really. How do I do it all in one night? The answer is, I don’t do it all in one night. It takes almost three months to do. You don’t know that, because I stop time. If it’s midnight at your house when I do it, you’re actually in your bed for three months. I have stopped the time. And then when I’m all done with what I have to do, I start the time again. So it seems like I did everything in a night to you, but no, it’s much more involved than that.

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Look, I’ll give you an example. I want you to count to five, and stop for half a second between four and five.

One, two, three, four…five.

KK: Now, how long did you wait between four and five?

I waited a beat.

KK: It was actually a week. I stopped time, and you didn’t even know it. I don’t like to do it very often. It does wacky things in the world, but every now and again, I do an example.

Exactly how many elves do you have working for you? Do they have benefits?

KK: On the roster now it’s 263. The biggest benefit is that they get to work with me in the world’s most fun environment. I could tell the second I walked into your office today that folks here have an awful lot of fun, and I think that’s a great thing for people to be able to do at work. But if you really want to have fun? Work where we work. And yes, they have a health plan, including dental. And paid vacation. We take the day after Christmas through the second week of January off, and then subsequent to that, they can take another two weeks, except from September on, because then it’s mad house time.

How do you separate the naughty from the nice? Aren’t most people a little of both?

KK: Yes, there’s truth to that. A lot of people can be. There’s a big difference between naughty and bad. It’s a balancing act. You decide based on their actions. “Plot is character. We are what we do,” Aristotle said. The same is true for everybody. Ultimately, your actions dictate. The dangerous thing, of course, is that whenever anybody does anything that’s naughty or doesn’t appear to be nice, it’s always more dramatic to people who see it. The nice things are sweet and appreciated and then forgotten, whereas the other is weightier. But I can separate that very easily.

Every single day there are people claiming to be you. How do you maintain a sense of identity?

KK: It is interesting. At a certain time of year, and we’re approaching it rapidly, I walk down the street, and I think, good Lord, it’s like looking into a mirror every place I go. But I appreciate all of that stuff. It is said that one of the greatest forms of flattery is imitation, so how could I not be flattered to death by all of that? I love it all, and I know I’m me. I think what all of these people are trying to do is not be who I am—because who I am is nothing of any consequence; what I represent is what’s of consequence. And these people are all trying to share that. That part isn’t disconcerting at all. It’s really quite sweet.

Describe what the afternoon of December 25 is like for you.

KK: I come home and have a bite with Mrs. Claus. I give her a few highlights of what I’ve been up to the last three months, although she thinks I’ve only been gone about twelve hours. Then I take a nap. I don’t make it to 6 o’clock on Christmas Day.

Mrs. Claus must be a very supportive spouse.

KK: Yes, everybody should be as blessed. I think the smart married folks know that any married person can do only what their spouse allows them to do. And it’s not that the other is the boss – it’s that the other is supportive and loves and is willing to indulge. She shares me with an awful lot of people, which is extraordinarily generous of her. I’m very lucky.

Which actor do you think did the best job of portraying you?

KK: First would be Edmund Gwenn without hesitation. He is the fellow who did the original Miracle on 34th Street. The second would be David Huddleston. He was in Santa Claus: The Movie. He was phenomenal. It was said that he got the role in the screen test after the first three words, because as soon as they turned on the camera, he looked up and said, “Hi, I’m Santa.” Then, of course, there’s Tim Allen. Did any of us really see that coming?

What’s the best gift request you’ve ever gotten from a kid?

KK: The sweetest, the nicest, the most moving has been good health for family or friends who are sick. In the beginning of the economic crisis, I can’t tell you how many children asked for their mother or father to have a job, because they knew what pressure there was for that. When a child leads off with that, when that is their only request, it’s extraordinarily touching. I wish it were within my purview to do.

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If you were to ask someone with your kind of power for something, what would it be?

KK: I would do what folks do with me, so I would ultimately ask for something that’s not within my grasp, and that’s the health thing. When you have your health, you have just about everything. I knew an actor who used to sign all his photos with the message, “Good health.” I used to think that was such an interesting thing to write. I was perkier then, healthier then. I understood as I got older why that was such a good thing. That’s why I’m walking more than I used to. I wouldn’t call myself thin, but I’m thinner than I used to be. Meat Loaf said in an interview once, “I’ll never be thin. I just want to be as thin as I can be and still be called Meat Loaf.” That’s my attitude these days — I know I’m never gonna be thin. I just want to be as thin as I can be and still be what people picture when they think of Santa.

If you had to choose another profession, what would you do?

KK: Part of why that’s hard is that I love what I do so much. To picture doing something else is difficult. I would have loved to have been a vaudeville comedian, but I think I’m a little late for that. I think that was done by 1945. I think I would like to do things in a non-profit environment, maybe event planning for a non-profit. I think that would be extraordinary fun and quite rewarding.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever believed in?

KK: That the Nationals were going to win the pennant this year.

Letters are sweet, but old-fashioned. Check out SantaNJ.com to get in touch with Kris. And don’t forget to join the KRIS KRINGLE FAN CLUB on Facebook!