West Valley City •
For a guy who is 1,732 years old, Santa Claus looked pretty spry.
The jolly old elf, who History.com said was a monk named St. Nicholas born in modern-day Turkey sometime around A.D. 280, recently came to his lodge at the Valley Fair Mall from his winter home in Southern California (who knew?). With real white whiskers and an appropriately jolly red face, he donned his red uniform and waited to hear youngsters' Christmas wishes.
Almost before he could sit down, a brother and sister, both under 5, looked up at the chair next to a fireplace, trees, holiday books, wooden toys and poinsettias, and shyly walked up to the jolly elf. Holiday songs filled the mall. The boy clutched a truck, the girl a stuffed dog. The boy whispered what he hoped to see under the tree into Santa's ears.
I am 62 years old and, though I've been known to help Santa with his Christmas gift giving, I remain a firm believer. That's something I share as he waited for the next child to crawl on his lap. But, like most, I have questions.
For instance, how come I saw a very similar-looking Santa at City Creek just last Saturday night? I get that Santa is magic, but how can he be in so many places at the same time?
"That was not Santa," he explained. "That was one of his helpers. Most of the mall Santas, they are helpers."
Our Taylorsville home doesn't have a true chimney, so how can Santa still visit and bring gifts?
He explained that he usually carries a watch, a key, a compass, sleigh bells and a little pouch on his big black belt.
Santa said kids often don't know what a compass is, so he explained to them it's an old-fashioned GPS. That seems to help.
The watch helps him know what time it is as he makes rounds around the world. Most kids understand that. The pouch contains tiny pieces of coal for those who have been bad, largely because as fossil fuels get more precious, lumps cost too much. The magic key, with Santa's face on it, allows him to enter homes like ours without true chimneys. The bells keep the reindeer calm.
Why doesn't Santa bring his reindeer to the mall?
"They only work one day a year," he patiently explained. "The rest of the time, I use other kinds of transportation when visiting before Christmas. The reindeer are shy and they try to stay out of everybody's way."
I asked if Santa finds modern children and adults a bit more greedy than the days in the late 1700s when, according to History.com, he started to become popular in America, a process that was helped by Episcopal minister Clement Moore's 1822 poem "The Night Before Christmas" and an 1881 drawing by political cartoonist Thomas Nast.
His answer pleased and surprised me.
"Kids in general don't have more than one or two things they really ask me to bring them," he said. "Many have got everything. All of them seemed to be pretty restrained in the number and amount of gifts they ask for."
Santa's mall helper shared some letters to Santa, some perhaps placed in the white mailbox near his lodge. Kids ask for Legos, a Nerf gun, Ariel doll, Minnie Mouse stuff, an iPad and a picnic basket. One youngster even pasted ads for his favorite toys to a piece of paper.
For his part, Santa patiently listened and asked the kids to keep their room clean. When one girl confessed she was struggling with that task, he admitted to having trouble keeping his own room nice.
Santa Claus might be magic, but at least he's human. And, when each December rolls around, I'm sure glad he and his many helpers are around to make the season brighter.