Story: David Bolling Photos: Steven Krause
Valley of the Moon magazine: The last time we had a little chat you were in a warehouse on Eighth Street East.
You should see my warehouse this year. Ho. Ho. Ho. Ho. Ho.
What is it about warehouses?
Well, you got to start someplace, right? And a warehouse is very nondescript, very discreet. No one ever really knows what goes on behind those doors. And to have Santa in Sonoma is surely a surprise to everyone. It’s very important that we don’t have visitors.
So, you’ve got an off-season, right? You’re a pretty recognizable guy. Can you just go down to Murphy’s in the middle of July for a beer?
I’d rather not tell you where I go, but yes, I frequent the watering holes around town and I’m never bothered by anyone.
How do you do that?
Very well, thank you. If I told you my secret, it would not be secret and I would have to change my MO for next year and I don’t think that’s how I want to live my life. I like very much being invisible.
Everybody sees you as a jolly fat man with a white beard. Are you saying that during, say, 10 months of the year you’re thin and un-bearded and maybe not so jolly?
I would tell you that following Christmas, you still won’t see me for about a month, but after that you just don’t recognize me. You could take that for whatever it’s worth. I’m passing among you.
With all this organizational structure, are you some kind of a corporation? You’re a nonprofit, aren’t you?
We’re a nonprofit organization, 501(C)(3). Federal government’s completely aware of who we are, but thanks to federal laws, you really don’t know who I am. The biggest problem we’ve got is our elves—it’s hard for them to make their way through town without being seen.
They’re little and they have interesting features to them.
Do they really have pointy ears?
I can’t really tell you that. Sorry. Let’s just say that they don’t live in town.
You hang out in Sonoma, but your primary operation is at the North Pole?
I hang out in Sonoma, and we have many operations elsewhere. In the off-season, I just happen to spend most of my time in the most beautiful place on earth, and that’s Sonoma.
This is a scoop.
You’re the only one I’ve ever talked to. I feel comfortable with you.
Wow. This whole complex organizational arrangement is fascinating. You said last year you’re kind of like Amazon in terms of your distribution capacity.
I think with what’s occurred over the course of the last 12 months, we’re better than Amazon. I still say we created the model, but there was a better mousetrap, perhaps, in the Amazon world. We learned from that and now I’d say we’re better than Amazon.
Are you exploring the use of drones?
Drones scare us. Drones can get shot out of the sky. We’re a little concerned about the use of multiple drones. It’s much better for me on a one-to-one basis, with my reindeer, to handle our obligations. It’s impossible to explain to you exactly how it works.
It’s physics. It’s all about the physics. The drones, we have a department that has looked at the drones, but they’re too many variables that we can’t control. It might ruin Christmas for everyone if something like that were to go horribly wrong. We don’t necessarily trust technology.
Yet, you’ve got a flying sleigh?
That took years. That took years. You know the story about Santa and his sleigh and the reindeer, et cetera. You don’t exactly know when that started, so what you don’t really know is how long it took for us to get to the point where the sleigh actually worked.
We have to ask you this because, well, it’s an obvious question: How old are you?
I shouldn’t disclose that to you. You probably wouldn’t let me drive a sleigh if I disclose my age. Old enough.
We know that you’re global, and you have what you called RDCs, regional distribution centers, all over. But you started at the North Pole. Right?
That is correct. Well, that’s when we started with the sleigh.
For God’s sakes, why? It’s cold. It’s remote. It’s dangerous.
For all those reasons. The North Pole was an obvious choice because it is not inhabited and it is out of the way. As we were perfecting our distribution system, we felt being there was the obvious choice for the same reasons.
When you’re in delivery mode …
That’s the best day. That’s the absolute pinnacle of pinnacles and every year it seems to be getting better.
… when you’re delivering, you’re actually traveling through controlled airspace. Are you not?
We travel above controlled airspace except on the landings. It’s like a rocket, if you will.
You don’t have to file a flight plan?
Here’s the thing. We are so unique in what we do. It happens one day a year. Governments around the world are almost all on vacation that day. We take liberties that perhaps we wouldn’t otherwise take. For the most part people are home, so the traffic flows in the air are not what they would typically be.
Do you have any collision avoidance radar or anything?
We have. What you need to understand is, you see Tesla, you see Mercedes, you see BMW with all of these avoidance systems. These self-driving vehicles today. Where do you think that came from? We’ve been working on that technology for centuries.
Well, you’re so far ahead of the curve.
People have no idea.
Speaking of technology, you must get millions of letters and maybe now emails.
The post office has no idea what to do with the letters. Everything ends up, “Santa Claus, The North Pole.” That seems to be the only place people know to send the letters. At the North Pole, we have piles and piles and piles of bags that our letter response team has to go through.
You have a letter response team?
Well, we have a response team that reports directly to me so that we understand what it is people are hoping that they get. I already know most of this, of course, but there’s people who believe that if they don’t write me a letter, I don’t know where they are, who they are or what they want.
Does writing the letter improve their odds?
It doesn’t improves their odds, but I like to get them because it shows me they truly believe. They don’t really need to send the letter, but when Manuel Garcia sends me his letter telling me he’s been a good boy and he is looking for skis because it’s all he’s ever wanted, it just lets me know that he believes. And not everybody believes, but the only reason some don’t believe is because they were bad and they aren’t getting anything.
Santa gives them coal and they want to bad-mouth me when they really should be looking in the mirror.
That’s not a little harsh?
It’s a little harsh, but it’s reality. Life isn’t easy. I tell you to be good. I tell you to be good to your parents. There’s a reason for that. We are looking to unite the world.
What if that tilts them toward becoming a nonbeliever?
Well, again, I think they need to look inward, and if they made a change in their life they once again would change their opinion. We’re trying to do good and we expect people to be good. If you are not good and you want to turn on Santa, really you’re only turning on yourself.
It’s deep. We’ve had a lot of time to think about this. Our expectations are met by others. Part of our goal is to have happy moms and dads. If Billy’s good and Samantha’s good and Mary’s good, then everybody wins, mom and dad win, divorce rates go down, and if we can get the kids to stay on board and be good kids, it takes the stress off the parents and everybody wins.
Wow. That’s profound.
Santa’s a profound individual.
So, if you don’t believe, then Santa’s not real. If you do believe, Santa’s real.
Very well said. If you believe, I’m real. If you don’t believe …
It’s goes to the heart of it.
Yes. That’s it. That’s it in a nutshell, as they say.
Let’s come back for a second to the presents. What’s the weirdest request you’ve ever had?
The weirdest request I’ve had for a present? I believe it was Angelina Jolie.
Somebody wanted Angelina Jolie?
Everyone wants Angelina Jolie. But this was what Angelina Jolie wanted. It’s a bit private and it just occurred, but she wanted something to occur to her current ex-husband that I don’t think Santa Claus can actually fulfill. It’s a request we don’t know how to take care of; it’s the strangest request I’ve ever had.
Has anyone ever asked you for, let’s say, a Ferrari 488 GTB. That’s somewhere between $250,000 and $350,000.
Retail. We don’t pay retail. Sometimes we don’t pay at all. Have I delivered those? Yes. No gift is too big or too small, depending upon the circumstances. That question goes to the Gift Evaluation Team to see if it merits the gift that’s being requested. Again, I know most of what people want. The thing is, people themselves don’t always know what they want. And some people don’t want or need anything. And maybe they’re the best kind.
Have you ever actually given someone a lump of coal?
Oh, I give lumps of coal all the time. Bernie Madoff—if you don’t think he’s received his share of coal, I got news for you. He was a believer. He still believes, but I think he realizes he deserves what he got. Those are things I hear in my head.
You can perceive things telepathically?
Everything. Again, I don’t need the letters. I see you when you’re sleeping and I know when you’re awake. I know if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.
Wow. It’s a little scary almost.
Now we’re approaching an important election. Does Santa follow politics?
Don’t get me started. You want to talk about coal? There’s an individual in New York City who has got nothing but coal for going on 70 years. First few years, I wasn’t quite sure. Very sure over the course of the last several months.
Does that kind of person ultimately win anything?
In Santa’s experience, those types of individuals ultimately lose everything. They may think that they are winning, but in the long-term, they are the biggest losers in the land.
Does anybody give presents to Santa on Christmas?
Every day is Christmas Day for Santa. Every day.
Is Christmas too commercial? Are we just getting too greedy and materialistic?
Yes, we are. The idea of giving, the idea of Santa, I think we started out with the best of intentions, but I think we need to understand what we’re celebrating and focus a little more on that. And as a result of celebrating that, we treat one another with kindness and respect, and then it’s ok to want and receive. But giving is much more important than receiving. And although I may be what you call an enabler, I do my best to try and neutralize the desires of some people who are just out for themselves.
You look like a guy who enjoys a good meal.
Ho. Ho. Ho. You don’t even know. A good meal with some great wine is even better.
What’s the best red wine for Christmas dinner?
The best red wine for Christmas dinner is a Landmark Pinot Noir.
Is it ok to serve a zinfandel with turkey?
You can serve zinfandel with just about anything, but with turkey is good. If I were serving a zinfandel with turkey, I’d go with a Ravenswood. Santa likes his wines. People always talk about the milk and cookies, but oftentimes it’s a nice piece of cheese with a cracker and a nice glass of wine that makes Santa’s night glow.
Belief is such a critical thing in this relationship with Santa.
What about the Easter Bunny?
The Easter Bunny is a fraud. That’s your mom and dad putting out eggs. How does the Easter Bunny get from point A to point B? A rabbit laying eggs? Tell me how that happens. It’s a fairy tale.
What about Superman, Batman, the Avengers, those folks?
Those are real.
Oh, yeah. The number of cases of catastrophic events would be far greater if Batman and Superman and the Avengers were not part of the landscape. No. We need them. Yes. Santa’s a big believer.
It is amazing. They do good work.
Summarize your message for our readers in the Valley of the Moon?
My message is always the same. Be kind to one another. Give to one another. Be part of your community. Live a good life and you will believe in Santa for your entire life.
Thank you, Santa.
Thank you, Valley of the Moon, and all your readers. Keep believing.