Warning: Christmas secrets will be revealed in the following article.
Cover the kids' eyes. Don't let them read this piece, unless you want them to know that right here in Craig, there is more than one Santa Claus.
On Saturday afternoon, Santa was spotted sitting on a sleigh with Mrs. Claus in Historic Downtown Craig, taking pictures with kids in the Centennial Mall, and greeting more kids at West Theatre, all at the same time.
George Kidder has been doing the Santa gig in downtown Craig for the last six years. He spends Saturday afternoons in Alice Pleasant Park, talking and taking pictures with children on his big green sleigh.
Before coming here, he was Santa in Florida. He said he likes it better here because he doesn't get so hot in that red velvet suit.
"If I'm going to be old and gray, I might as well have fun with it," Kidder said.
In Florida, Kidder drove a mail truck while dressed as the jolly old soul. He stuck a red Nerf ball on the hood of the truck, and told people he was following Rudolph.
Kidders' long wispy white beard is real, but some of the padding under his suit is a heavy down vest. At a lithe 235 pounds, he said he's been told he looks anorexic in his Santa suit.
He's also been spotted as Santa in the middle of the summer.
Last August, Kidder said he was leaving a Florida restaurant when he noticed a boy waving at him. Kidder didn't have on a red hat or any jingle bells, but the boy knew who he was all the same. The boy's mother came over and told Kidder her son would like to thank him for the bicycle he received last Christmas. Kidder went over, said hello, and told the boy to be good this year.
While he was talking, a boy leaned over from a different table and complained, 'I didn't get what I wanted last Christmas.'
That's why Kidder sits outside on his green sleigh all afternoon on Saturdays, because he loves the kids. He's been offered paid positions as a mall Santa before, but he said more is expected of mall Santas. They need to keep up with all the current toys. But in the park, talking to children for no charge, Kidder can just kid the children when he doesn't know what new toy they're talking about.
In the six years that Gary Woodward has been attending Elk's Club and VFW events as Santa Claus, he's noticed a shift in toys that appeal to the modern child. Lately, kids want electronic games more than anything, he said.
But that's why he suits up several times each holiday season. Because he likes to talk to the kids, each one wanting something different.
Centennial Mall Santa, known most of the year as Paul Cruz Sr., said children's Christmas requests seem different today, compared to when he started the Santa gig four years ago. Now they want all the new contraptions that come out.
And a lot of the time, Cruz doesn't even know what the kids want because they speak so low he can't hear them. But he said he just talks to them as pleasantly as he can, and they seem to like that.
Every now and then a child asks Cruz one of the hard questions.
"One year one asked, 'Where's you reindeer?'" Cruz said. "I told him, 'Up on the roof.' Another asked me to name the reindeer in order. He got me there."
Kidder said he tries to ask children what they want while their parents are standing nearby, and he doesn't make any promises so kids won't be so disappointed if they don't get what they want.
Kidder also said electronic toys are popular, but that some kids still want traditional gifts. He had just spoken with three boys who wanted drums, guitars and trains.
"The big girls are asking for cars," Mrs. Claus, a.k.a. Ginny Roth, a.k.a. Kidder's mother, said.
Then sometimes kids ask for the gifts even Santa can't give.
"My first or second year here, a girl said she wanted her dad home for Christmas," Kidder said. "I don't know if he was overseas, or what. It's kind of touching. I just say we'll see what we can do for you."
Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.