By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — They wait for his arrival, lists in hand, wonder on their faces and visions of ... GPS units? ... dancing in their heads.
Here comes Santa Claus.
As Santa prepares for his annual visits to the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum starting Saturday, he spoke with the Tonawanda News about his time at the museum’s events, the challenges of the job and the sometimes hysterical things kids say — often when explaining their wish lists.
“It’s wild,” he said. “I’ve been asked for flatscreen TVs ... treadmills ... all the latest video games. One little girl asked me for a GPS. I asked her why. She said, ‘Because my family doesn’t go anywhere.’ How sad, right?
“Then I told her she had a pretty necklace and asked where she got it. She said, ‘Disney World!’ ”
While Santa does his best to assure kids that something will be waiting under the tree on Christmas morning, he noted that he can’t promise everything.
“I’ve been asked for animals, I’ve been asked for horses. Horses are a big one,” he said. “I tell them right up front, Santa does not deliver pets ... they would chew up all the presents, and then no one would get any presents. They have to think about that.”
Over his years at the museum, Santa’s seen and heard a lot. He’s had children visit him with Christmas lists that are actual scrolls, and bring him treats and crafts they’ve made. He’s been asked where his reindeer are (waiting for him in the woods down in Allegany State Park). He’s been on families’ Christmas cards and even in at least one wedding album.
He’s been forced to sneak off to the museum’s roundhouse to cool down, especially in 2011 when the temperature hit 71 degrees. (All that red velvet gets pretty warm when you’re not at the North Pole.)
He challenges them to remember all his reindeer’s names (”Rudolph gets them too much top billing”) and reminds them that he prefers homemade cookies (an effort to encourage parents to spend time baking with their children). He still loves the uncertain look that some children get when asked, “And have you been good this year?”
“I love it when I start asking them those questions and they look at their parents,” he said. “Let them believe in themselves.”
The biggest challenge to the job, Santa said, is the kids who are scared of him ... at least at first.
“I try to tell them: ‘I’m the good guy. It’s OK; we can talk.’ You work yourself up to it,” he said, telling about one little girl who, at first, wanted nothing to do with him. “By the end, I had her in my arms, riding the horses with me. You take it slow with them. I love it when their eyes light up.”
Despite the occasional challenges, however, there are moments that make it all worthwhile.
“I’ll never forget this one little girl,” he said. “She had a plaid dress and glasses on her face and when I did my ‘ho ho ho’ routine ... she was just shaking with excitement. I scooped her in my arms and the beam on her face ... it was everything. It’s all about the kids, whether they’re young, old, have special needs.
“It’s all about them. Not me. It’s their day.”
Rae Proefrock, director of the Carrousel Museum, said Santa has been visiting the museum for at least 20 years, although the annual lunches with him have only started up for the past seven years or so.
“As far back as I remember, we’ve had at least a few days with Santa,” she said. “It’s been very good for us, which is why we’ve extended it.”
This year’s Santa on the Carrousel event will take place from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 1, 8 and 15. The cost is 5. Lunch with Santa will precede the event at 11 a.m. and costs $10 per person, including the afternoon events. Advance registration and pre-payment is required for lunch; call 639-1885. Openings still exist for lunch each weekend.
In addition, a “Crafts for Kids” will also take place from noon to 4 p.m. Friday, included with paid admission. A Victorian Ornament workshop will be presented from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday for those 16 and up. Cost is $8 per person. Advance registration and pre-payment is required by Friday.
Holiday tours will take place at 1 p.m. Friday and Sunday, included with paid admission. The museum is also offering a special field trip program for the holidays, and will host 300 to 400 preschoolers coming up the next few weeks, Proefrock said.
It all combines for a fairly bustling time at the museum, where Jim Burgess has helped Santa out the past five years.
“The kids are what make it fun,” he said. “I’ve watched them grow up the last five years. It’s all about the spirit of Christmas.
“It’s a good experience ... it makes me feel young again.”IF YOU GO • WHAT: Santa Claus visits the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum • WHEN: Noon to 3 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 1, 8 and 15. Lunch with Santa is also available at 11 a.m. these days. • WHERE: Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, 180 Thompson St., North Tonawanda • COST: Lunch with Santa is $10 and includes the afternoon activities. Advance registration and pre-payment is required; call 639-1885. The Santa on the carrousel event alone is $5. • FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call 639-1885, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.carrouselmuseum.org.