Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, December 24, 2001

Reporter Tim Ryan is transformed into Santa.

Santa Class

Our Santa facsimile decides to try
the real thing -- with no padding needed

By Tim Ryan

"Is my beard straight, fly closed? The pants are hanging down my okole. Does it show?" I whisper to "Mrs. Claus," being played by Lisa Romano, who is standing to the right of "Santa's" throne in Macy's third-floor Special Events room at Ala Moana Center.

Before she can answer, 5-year-old wide-eyed Ann of Kailua and her sniffling brother Jimmy, 4, are set on my lap by mom, who quickly moves a few feet away in trying to get her camera to function.

"Should Santa give mom batteries for Christmas?" I joke.

Mrs. Claus' hand on my shoulder goes from a pat to pinch.

"What would you like for Christmas, Jimmy?"

Jimmy is speechless, more concerned with picking his nose than talking.

"I want a coral with little metal horses," sister Ann interrupts. "A white horse, a black horse and a tan horse. Maybe you should you write this down?"

"Santa has a real good memory," I say.

"Jimmy, have you done your chores this year?" I ask the child still mining for gold.

"Jimmy has a cold," Ann whispers as the blond boy sneezes.

"It's a good thing Santa got a flu shot," I try to say cheerfully, wiping my face with the synthetic costume beard.

Reporter Tim Ryan is transforming into Santa.

"And what would Santa like for Christmas?" mom asks.

"Kleenex," I say. Mrs. Claus squeezes my shoulder again.

This is another predicament I've talked myself into. A few times a year, my gray hair and white beard -- not to mention a growing paunch -- seem to become less unattractive.

In New Zealand last August -- winter down under -- I was on a steamboat and wearing a large, bulky red wool jacket due to temperatures at just above freezing. An attractive Chinese woman was staring at me. She smiled when I looked her way, turned away, looked back and smiled again. Then she and her two toddlers approached.

"Excuse me," the mother said in shaky English. "My children would like to have their picture taken with Santa Claus. OK?"

This Christmas season, I decided to put my looks to good use thanks to Macy's and Puppets Unlimited, the company that has provided Liberty House, now Macy's, "Santa's Christmas Journey" for more than two decades.

So here I sit in too-short red velour pants, a rabbit fur-lined jacket, black vinyl spats, snap-on gloves, synthetic hair and beard, and a red cap.

Reporter Tim Ryan is transformed into Santa with the help of Macy's Santa, Dion Donahue.

And I'm bathed in sweat because synthetic doesn't breathe well.

"I got your ho, ho, ho," I tell Dion Donahue, the weekday Santa I'm replacing for the next hour.

"Just be comfortable with the kids; let them come to you," says the part-time actor. "The kids will let you know what they're feeling pretty quickly."

A week earlier, I attended an impromptu Puppets Unlimited "Santa School" led by their main guy, Roger County, 48, who's been doing this routine for 22 years. He's also a preschool teacher.

"Don't put on the Santa suit too soon," he warns. "You'll pass out from the heat; underneath, wear shorts and a T-shirt."

County and I don't need to wear padding under the pants. The problem is, the pants are made for a 5-foot-9 guy; I'm 6-foot-2.

Stirrups cause the waist to hang around the middle of my butt. Fortunately, Santa's jacket is long.

Black spats are worn over street shoes to make them resemble boots and hide the laces. The black vinyl felt is held tight by Velcro; wig and beard cling with more elastic.

Reporter Tim Ryan transforming into Santa.

County and Donahue don't say "Ho, ho, ho" because it can scare kids, they agree.

"Some kids are understandably nervous," County says, since all their young lives, they've been told to be wary of strangers. "Suddenly mommy is sitting them on the lap of a guy in a funny red suit and hairy face. Be sensitive."

Santa also needs to watch the time he spends with each child, Donahue says.

"Other kids are waiting," he says. "If a list is too long, remind them to send it to Santa."

County also says not to suggest specific presents, which may raise their expectations.


Daily Santa performances also include a 30-minute puppet show and meal. I'll only be Santa for as many as 90 kids.

Johnny, 4, a Harry Potter look-alike, hops on my lap without hesitation. Sister Susie, 6, climbs on my other knee.

"M-e-r-r-y Christmas, kids," I bellow.

Johnny explores my beard like a scientist. When he grabs it, several strands come off in his hand.

"Ow," I say in slow reaction.

Johnny starts to cry.

"No, it's OK. Just put it back on my face and it will, ah, reattach," I say.

Sean, 3, is curious about Santa's reindeer.

"Uh, they're in the lower garage sleeping. It's a long ways from the North Pole."

"Where's the sleigh?" he asks.

"Being cleaned by some menehune," I say.

Richard, 7, wants a "big yellow twuck."

"I think I only have red ones left," I say, improvising.


"No, I have one more yellow one, I'm sure."

Mom smiles.

Patty, 7, wants two dolls "so they can keep one another company."

"It's on the list," I say, winking at mom.

Andy, 6, in a black leather jacket, wants a bicycle and a toy motorcycle.

"I'm going to be a policeman when I grow up," he says.

Matt, 6, wants a toy rifle.

Mrs. Claus (Lisa Romano), places Jacque Laird and her brother Avi on Santa's lap.

"Santa doesn't give guns because they hurt people," I say just as I see dad, a strapping 6-foot-plus U.S. Marine. "But Santa will make an exception."

Mom Melanie thrusts her 10-month-old baby boy at me, and he begins crying the moment he leaves her hands.

"One picture, honey," she says.

Then mom hops on my other knee -- the one that went through two surgeries -- while a friend snaps a pic of the three of us.

"Aren't you proud of me, Santa?" she says. "I've lost 40 pounds since last Christmas."

"Keep up the good work," I say.

The last child asks if she can give Santa a kiss. Mom wants a picture, so I lean toward Melody, 5, and the child puts her hands around my neck, then gives me a little peck.

"Where's your ear, Santa?" she asks.

Melody stretches the beard's elastic, peeks underneath and screams, "I can see Santa's ear!"

"Hi, Santa," whispers Sean, who's returned to tell me that "the reindeer are still sleeping."

"I think I heard them snoring behind a weally big twuck, but I didn't wake them up. I'm gonna leave you and Rudolph some gingerbread cookies Christmas Eve, OK?"

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