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Santa Claus tells all
Why does he need a 'magic' key? Herald asks the tough questions in exclusive interview with St. Nick
Metter Elementary School first grader Talayah Martinuea, 6, left, counts Christmas ornaments hanging from the ceiling while waiting in line with classmates to see Santa at Statesboro Mall Thursday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Santa's Mall Hours

Monday, December 6 — Thursday, December 9  

   Elf Inspection at Santa's Workshop

Friday, December 10                                                2-8 p.m.

Saturday, December 11                                            Noon-8 p.m.

Sunday, December 12                                              1-6 p.m.

Monday, December 13 — Friday, December 17        2-8 p.m.

Saturday, December 18                                            Noon-8 p.m.

Sunday, December 19                                              1-6 p.m.

Monday, December 20 — Thursday, December 23  Noon-8 p.m.

Friday, December 24                                                  10 a.m.-6 p.m.


For more information, visit


    Like Tim Allen's character in “The Santa Clause” movies, the real Santa was once an ordinary man, who was chosen and transformed through a mysterious process.

    This current avatar of ancient St. Nick agreed to be interviewed during a visit Thursday to the Statesboro Mall where, from now through Dec. 24, he will listen as children tell him their Christmas wishes. He has appeared at the mall for 10 years now, and during that time, he has visited with tens of thousands of kids in Statesboro alone, according to one photographer who works with him closely.

            Although his final identification as Santa occurred a decade ago, the transformation began years earlier, when an ordinary man's beard grew in noticeably white and voluminous.

Question: How did it happen?

Santa Claus: "Ten years ago is when I started out. I had never been Santa Claus anywhere before. I had the beard for some time, but people started telling me, 'Let it go and be Santa Claus. It's already white.' But the reason I wouldn't do it was I had crooked teeth and I could not take a good picture. So I started having problems with my teeth, so (I got them fixed) and I got started in it."

Q: But you had a beard that was naturally white before then?

SC: "Oh yes, it's always been natural white."

Q: Why do you do it?

SC: "I enjoy it. I tell you what, to see the kids faces and all ... and I don't like to use the words scared or afraid of Santa Claus, but let's say that they may be a little shy. And once you win them over, then they want to stay with you. That's one part I really enjoy doing."

Q: Is there a Mrs. Claus?

SC: "Yes. She comes out and reads stories to them, when we have milk and cookies."

     (In response to further questions about his private life, Santa revealed that his wife's given name is Sue Nell, an unusually Southern-sounding name for the North Pole, and that he has one son and four grandchildren, ages 18 down to 8. The grandkids live in, of all places, San Antonio, Texas, which Santa, who speaks with a charming if unexpected drawl, called "San Antone.")


Q: Do elves really make the toys?

SC: "Oh, yeah!"


Q: Do you have your reindeer with you today?

SC: "Well, I tell you what, they brought me here, but right now they're down here south of Statesboro in a pasture eating some of this good grass. Snow is on the ground at the North Pole, so they don't get the good grass to eat. When I leave here I'll go back to where they are in this pasture, hook up the sled and go back to the North Pole."


Q:  I guess that answers the question of whether they really know how to fly. ... How do you get ready for that big ride on December 24?"

SC: "Well, Mrs. Claus and all of them load up the sled for me. [Santa affectionately refers to his sleighs as sleds, and as he revealed, he has several.] Sometimes I have to use more than one sled: one set of reindeers to bring the presents, one to pick up my milk and cookies, one to pick up the reindeer food. Kids know to not only leave me milk and cookies, but also leave some reindeer food, because they get hungry too. But I also tell them to just please leave just a little bit of reindeer food. If they eat a whole lot, they may get fat, and when they get fat, they can't fly too fast, and I get behind on my route."


Q:  What do you do when there's no chimney?

SC: "Oh, I use a magic key and go through the front door."


Q:  There's this rumor that Santa is left a “surprise” when little kids sit on his lap. Does that really happen?

SC: "Not very much, no. And they do not pull your beard. That's my biggest surprise, kids not pulling my beard."

Q:  What is your favorite part of being Santa?

SC: "When I see some kids who thank me for what I brought them last Christmas. Each year, when one of them wants a guitar or something like that, I tell them they have to make a CD for me and the following Christmas I'll pick up the CD, and I've got a CD player on my sled where I can listen to them playing the guitar and the reindeer can listen to them, too."


Q:  I hear you're 75 now. Do you have any plans to retire?

SC: "No way! Not as long as I'm able to do it."


     A very special elf named Lowell Baughn, who handles Santa's local appointments, arranged this interview prior to Thursday's mall visit by about 160 first-graders from Metter Elementary School. When school groups schedule a visit, all of the children, not just those who pay for photos, get to spend time with Santa, one teacher explained.

     Jerry Harris, owner of Into the Lens Photography, has worked with this Santa since his transformation. Harris estimates that 5,000 to 6,000 children will tell Santa their wishes this season at the mall. This same Santa, real beard and all, also makes other appearances throughout the community.

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