Parade-goers can expect a most professional Santa this year. Roger Freeman, who retired to Payson almost three years ago, has been doing Santa for over 30 years. And the robust, 62-year-old gives every indication that he's got a lot of Santa left in the tank.
The first indicator of Santa longevity, is a passion for the job, and Freeman has that.
"I enjoy doing it," Freeman said. "No, I love doing it -- just to see the joy in their faces. I like kids."
That's not to say every experience is an enjoyable one. Back when Freeman was still working in the southern California aircraft industry, an incident occurred that left a lasting impression.
"It was many years ago during a swap meet out in Riverside," he recalled. "We had a little trailer that was our Santa House.
"There weren't supposed to be any animals at the swap meet, but this little girl smuggled a pig inside of her jacket into the house and asked if she could have a picture with Santa. Of course the pig got a little excited and had an accident right there.
Most kids start to question whether Santa Claus is real between the age of six and eight.
"A lot of them ask, ‘Are you the real Santa Claus?' I always say, ‘What do you think?'
"They say, ‘Yeah, you're the one.' I always let them assume that I'm real."
Then there was the time Freeman encountered an adult who still believed in Santa Claus.
"We were over at the Galleria in Riverside and this obviously homeless person keeps hanging out around the perimeter," Freeman remembered. "My wife, Jo, was doing Mrs. Claus, as she always does, and even asked if she should call security.
"After the line went down and there was nobody there, he came up and said, ‘I know you don't have any money, and I don't want to ask you for anything more than just a little prayer that my sister and I make enough money today to get a room tonight.' I said, ‘Sure, you bet,' and said a little prayer.
"On the way out that night, we saw he and his sister at the exit to the mall, and he said, ‘Santa, thank you so much.' He had obviously made enough money (panhandling) to get a room."
A good assistant is invaluable in the Santa business, and Jo has been playing Mrs. Claus for eight years.
"Mrs. Claus has a very important job," Freeman said. "She's always working the line, talking with the kids, getting their names, talking to their parents, seeing if certain gifts are OK, and she'll relay that information to me prior to the child coming up, so normally I'll know what their name is and possibly what they want."
Another critically important element is the beard. The fact that Freeman is a member of the Amalgamated Order of Real-Bearded Santas provides a strong clue that he doesn't take playing Santa lightly.
In fact, the real beard makes being Santa a year-round gig.
"I used to shave it off at the end of January and start growing it back again at the end of july, but it never got quite full enough for me," he said. "So 15 years ago I quit shaving.
"It takes an extra half hour every day, because it's actually this long," he said, touching the mid-point of his belly. "I have to shampoo and condition it every day, and I use two curling irons -- a small-diameter for the moustache, and a large-diameter to shape the beard backwards and curl it up underneath.
"I used to have to bleach it out, but I don't have to anymore. It's finally turned white enough."
A lot of girls still ask Santa for Barbie dolls, and boys like remote control cars. But ATVs are also popular. ("‘My dad's got one and he says I can have one, too.'" Freeman imitates.)
As you might expect, Rim country children tend to have a little different tastes from those Freeman encountered in southern California.
"It's much more rural here and requests for ponies and horses are a lot more common than they are in Newport Beach. ("And the horse is OK with your parents?" he always asks.)
Freeman has a BS from USC (a Bachelor of Santa from the University of Santa Claus).
Knowing your Santa facts
One of the requirements for being Santa is knowing the answers to frequently-asked questions. Any Santa can recite the names of Santa's reindeer, but here are a few that a make-believe Santa might stumble upon:
- What makes the reindeer fly?
Christmas magic makes the reindeer fly, but only on Christmas Eve.
- What was the first toy Santa Claus made?
It was a hand-carved cat. I called the wood carving a "toy," the first time the word was ever used.
- How does Santa know to get to everyone's house?
The elf secretaries keep exact records of all children by country, state, province, city, or town and then by house, bedroom and bed.
- What does Santa do when a house does not have a chimney?
All I will say is that I use a little magic key. I always find a way.