WASHINGTON -- The forecast is for snow. Santa could not be happier.
love it," he says as he heads down 15th Street the day after the
presidential election. "Snow is my friend." He is on foot, no reindeer
in sight, and in full gear.
A brisk wind is blowing, but that
doesn't stop two women from bolting out of a Starbucks to tell Santa
they've been good. They then give him a kiss, perhaps an extra incentive
for him to drop by on Christmas Eve.
A block down, David Olive of
McLean, Va., stops Santa to thank him for the recent Obama win. "It
was an early Christmas gift, Santa," says Olive, a federal employee who
then slaps Santa's back in gratitude. "Thanks!"
Random car horns
begin to blow and a truck driver stops for a red light, rolls down his
window and yells: "I want a Rolls-Royce, Santa!" Santa promises
nothing, but gives the driver a thumbs-up of hope.
person Santa meets smiles. In these dwindling weeks before Christmas it
appears most everyone, even if they don't believe, pretends they do.
"I think I get said 'hello' to more than most people," Santa admits without any hint of understanding why that might be so.
Santa, also known as Sal Lizard, has seen all these antics before. And more. He is now sharing his tales in a new book, Being Santa Claus: What I Learned About the True Meaning of Christmas (Gotham), which has brought him to the nation's capital on a promotional stop.
The thing is, Lizard actually looks
like Santa Claus. The beard is real. The belly of jelly is real
although he won't divulge his waist size. The blue eyes and the pink
face are all real, too. Which at first was a problem.
(pronounced like the reptile), 57, had little desire to be Santa more
than 20 years ago back in Charleston, S.C., despite the fact that not a
day would go by that someone didn't remark how much he looked like Old
"I thought it was a curse back then," he says of his premature white beard.
one thing led to another, a red suit was donned, a radio station called
and Lizard began showing up at public events in parking lots and the
living rooms of private homes. He often arrived in his bright red Chevy
station wagon with SANTA plates and mistletoe hanging from the rear-view
He has also worked as Santa in shopping malls and
department stores, a journey now told in a warm and whimsical way.
"Yes, someone actually said I should write a book," he says. "And so I
It's written with Jonathan Lane, who admits working with Santa was a bit intimidating but not for the reasons you might think.
"His memory is just remarkable," says Lane, who worked for two years culling Santa tales from 50 hours of recordings.
"It's what it is supposed to be," Lane says. "A feel-good book, a little taste of Christmas."
Lane also found out quickly that Lizard is serious about his ho-ho-ho gig.
No. 1 rule? "I always ask myself: What Would Santa Do. WWSD," Lizard
says. "Santa never walks away from anyone, for instance. And Santa can't
say no. It's one of the occupational hazards."
He also gave up
both smoking and drinking, not wanting children to see Santa doing
either. Santa needs to project the right image at all times. (He's still
both amused and amazed, though, that any number of people, including
the guys down at the gas station back home, often ask, "Want a nip,
"Children have a hard enough time trying to figure out
what's right or what's wrong," he says. "Being Santa is about trust.
Children want to believe and once you give them something reasonable to
believe in they'll go with it."
He also knows people don't necessarily want to see much of him before Thanksgiving.
"It's a little early, Santa!" one passerby yells as he nears the White House.
"I've got to be somewhere," he responds.
"What about the North Pole?" comes a curt reply.
chuckles. He takes it all in stride, having experienced most everything
over the years, from being wet on by anxious toddlers to being
harassed by teenage boys whom he then sets straight if they stick around
long enough to hear him out.
"But for the few people who get
upset I'm around now, more people appreciate that I'm out here," he
says. "Santa can't please everyone."
Not that he doesn't try.
David Barnum and his 22-month-old son, Sherman, are obviously delighted
when they come upon Santa. From Overland Park, Kan., they are in town
on business/vacation. Sherman is left speechless by the sight of Santa,
but that doesn't stop him from taking a candy cane from Santa's
gloved hand when offered.
As did a dozen toddlers from US
Kids/Child Development Center who are so excited to come upon Santa they
hop up and down in unison. He answers all their questions, including
the whereabouts of his reindeer.
"They're playing reindeer games!" he's quick to reply.
After a rousing version of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
with the pre-schoolers, Santa immediately finds himself circled by
tourists in front of the White House. The newly re-elected president was
en route home from Chicago, but Santa was here.
haven't talked to him in 50 years," says Denise Oxford of Anderson,
S.C., in town to celebrate her 60th birthday. "The chance to hug his
neck again is a real treat."
Janet Molinari, a middle-aged tourist from Santa Rosa, Calif., steps right up like any child and asks Santa for a iPad.
"I never makes promises," he says. "It's a rule."
give people permission to be children again," he says later on, peering
over the wire glasses that sit on the end of his nose.
includes the maitre'd at lunch who appears delighted to seat the old
guy at the table of his choice, passing fellow diners who smile and wave
Over a lunch of salmon and tea drunk with a straw so as
not to stain his beard, Santa talks about his alter ego, but not
before he high-fives a little boy who walks up to the table.
"I'm building my own dual personality," he admits. "But if I'm going to morph into anyone, Santa is not such a bad thing to be."
About to be a grandfather, Lizard has a wife back in Georgia where he
still works as a sometime substitute teacher and is trying to break into
commercials and acting. He admits this time of year he sees very little
of Mrs Claus "who understands." He's often booked for holiday events a
year in advance. This year is even worse with his book tour.
And yes, being Santa can be lucrative.
"You can make good money," he says. "But it's not about the money."
trends out there, he's asked? So far this year Santa has noticed that
even more kids want electronics. "There's been a slowdown in live
animals, for some reason."
But what's not changing are the habits of the children who climb onto his lap year after year.
"For the girls it's always all about my accessories. My belt. My boots. That's what they're interested in."
And the boys? " It's all about my beard," he says. "Yes, they pull it."
"A lot of children think I'm the real deal," says Santa. "It's up to you to decide."