Old guys with long white beards are a dime a dozen in Punta Gorda.

The one who was at City Hall a week or so ago is worth a lot more than that.

That’s because this particular white beard happened to be Santa Claus, and he’d just dropped in from the North Pole to visit with the kids in the Do the Right Thing program. He greeted everyone, including the town’s new mayor, Nancy Prafke, with whom he was on a first-name basis.

Santa also had plans to spend time at Fishermen’s Village, his southern office. There he could talk with boys and girls in the sleigh they had set up for him. His North Pole sleigh, the one he’ll use on Christmas Eve, was in the shop undergoing detailing.

While at City Hall, Santa agreed to sit down for an interview. The bells were the first hint that he’d arrived. They rang loudly and with joy. Then came the familiar “ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas,” and like that St. Nicholas was there.

The question everyone seems to ask, but in this case seemed completely unnecessary, is whether he is real. Since he was sitting right there in an out-of-the-way break room at City Hall, he obviously was quite real.

As city employees peaked in the get a glimpse of the Jolly Elf, he addressed a number of questions concerning Christmas and his role in the holiday. He was relaxed, dressed in his work clothes. His cheeks were rosy, set off by the beard and shoulder length white hair. His eyes twinkled behind wire-rim glasses.

He said he stopped in Punta Gorda on his pre-Christmas tour because “there are so many nice people down here, and I want to put them all on the nice list.”

He was interrupted by a city employee who wanted to go over procedure, presumably with his Christmas Eve schedule. Say what you will about Punta Gorda officials, they are thorough.

“You’ve been doing it more years than I have,” she said before making sure he understood that strollers in PGI carry dogs not kids.

He laughed and handed her a candy cane. He also carries treats for dogs. Say what you will about Santa, he’s thorough. He always has just the right git.

Santa told the story of an alligator named Godzilla who used to keep him company at one of his Florida stops.

“He eventually got too big and too old for my lap,” he chuckled.

The business reporter at the newspaper wanted to know whether Santa is a job a person ascends to, like getting a promotion after starting as an elf and climbing the ladder at North Pole, Inc.

“I was born into this job,” he said, forcefully. “I’ve always been Santa and will be forever because Santa lives in hearts and minds.”

The transportation reporter wanted to know how he visited all the children of the world in one night. How did he pull that one off?

“Great question, great question,” Santa responded. “The secret is, cars on the interstate travel at 70 miles an hour. Airplanes fly at about 600 miles an hour. Rockets fly at about 2,000 miles an hour. Santa flies at the speed of gifts.

“When I fly at the speed of gifts, I’m in and out so fast, even the kids who stay up to wait for me, if they blink, I’ve been in an out in that blink.”

The general assignment reporter — herself on the small side — wanted to know if the elves were real. When shown a photo, she had to admit Santa was real. But the elves were like UFOs – no hard evidence.

“They are absolutely real,” Santa said. “And I think we ought to warn the kids right now as soon as the sleigh is out of the shop, the elves will be starting to load it with presents. They love to do that.

“What they don’t like to do is go back into the sleigh and take presents out. So, if you’re on the nice list, you have to stay on the nice list.”

Listen up, general assignment reporter!

At this point, Santa took it upon himself to clear up another misconception. Mrs. Claus is real, he said. Not only is she real, she is every bit as busy as he this time of year. Her time in Florida will come later. He said her favorite thing to do on vacation was fish on Charlotte Harbor.

He revealed they have a home in Punta Gorda Isles. He disclosed they have a boat. He would neither confirm nor deny they had a stroller for their dog.

“She has been with me forever,” he said of Mrs. Claus.

His favorite thing about Christmas is the “look in little kids’ eyes when they see Santa. And the love that should permeate through eternity with the love you see in people’s eyes when they see Santa.

“And the joy on Christmas morning.”


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