The cover of "Being Santa Claus."
For most of us, Christmas comes once a year. But for Sal Lizard, co-author of "Being Santa Claus: What I Learned about the True Meaning of Christmas"(Gotham, $20), Christmas exists 365 days of the year.
At the age of 20, when Lizard's hair and beard abruptly began to turn completely white, he embraced it and took on a full-time career as Santa Claus. For the last two decades, Lizard has appeared as Santa in homes, offices, malls, parades, schools, hospitals, as well as in movies.
We chatted with Lizard by phone from his "Santa-mobile" as he made his rounds from Georgia to New Hampshire. He told us what it's like when the most wonderful time of the year comes every day of the year.
When did you decide you were going to be Santa Claus?
Around the turn of the millennium, the dot com bubble burst and IT jobs were drying up -- and I was an IT guy. By the time I got out of there, there weren’t too many IT jobs around. So Santa was a source of income for a couple of years and eventually I started thinking about it more seriously, seeing it as a way I can make some money to survive. I’ve always enjoyed being Santa and seeing the look on children’s faces -- the fact that I can get paid doing it, is just icing on the cake. Or stripes on the candy cane!
Physically, what's the process of becoming Santa?
For me it was more a case of a change of attitude. Physically I was already portly with white hair and a white beard. I didn’t think I looked like Santa so much as everyone else did. Once I started putting on the suit, I could see myself becoming Santa. Now that I have that look and I realize that children see me year-round, I embrace it. Now I drive a red car that says “Santa” on the sides of it. I just stopped to fill up at a gas station and while I was standing there, getting ready to start pumping the gas, I heard young voices yell “Santa!” I looked over and there were three little girls who came running up to me, hugging me and asking to take a photo with me.
What changes did you have to make to your attitude after taking on a life as Santa Claus?
I realized that children were always watching me so I couldn’t smoke cigarettes, I couldn't drink alcohol, I quit cussing -- before, I had done all those things. When the children saw me, they saw Santa and I didn’t want them to see Santa drunk or Santa smoking cigarettes or hear Santa telling dirty jokes. I adopted all of that into my lifestyle and made a conscious effort.
Are you dressed up as Santa Claus right now?
Right now I’m driving around in a pair of jeans, a red flannel shirt, I have a belt buckle that says Santa in gold, I have on my reading glasses and I have my white beard on because, well, it’s a part of me. So I guess you could say I’m dressed like Santa. I’ve had my picture taken probably a couple of dozen times since I’ve been on the road today.
You’re not always wearing your red suit?
Nope, that’s just my business suit! I tell children that when they come home, they change their clothes a lot of times and I do the same thing. I wear my business suit when I’m out doing business, like officially talking to children and preparing to deliver the presents -- a nice warm suit during the winter time takes the chill off the cold sleigh ride. In the summer when I go swimming, I wear a red T-shirt and green swim trunks! Ho, ho, ho!
What does your schedule look like during your “off season”?
During July, I’ll get invited to a lot of water parks ... and things of that nature. It really delights parents to see Santa sitting poolside in green trunks and a red T-shirt and the children are so excited that I’m there -- they’ll say “Hey, Santa! Watch this!” And all they’ll do is put their face in the water, but for them, that’s an achievement, so I applaud them and tell them how wonderful they’re doing. During the rest of the year, I typically visit children at birthday parties.
What is the most unique thing a child has ever asked you for?
Well just the other day I got asked by a young child if I could bring her a cloak of invisibility, like in “Harry Potter.” What I said to her was “What would you do with a cloak of invisibility?” She explained that she could do things that nobody could see. And I said “Well, because you’re on my nice list I wouldn’t want to get you something that would get you to do something naughty, so I think I’m going to hold off on that.” You’ve gotta be quick on your feet!
What do you say when a child asks “Why didn’t you give me what I asked for last year?”