Kiester ‘home-sweet-home’ for Santa, Mrs. C.
Eleven months out of the year they are just ordinary folks involved in various activities throughout Faribault County.
When the cool weather arrives though, their friends begin asking them when they will start working.
You see, other than their closest friends and neighbors, most people think of them simply as Jack and Alice Moon of Kiester. However, children know their true identity…they are Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Once Thanksgiving is over, Santa stores his red sports car in the garage, dusts off his sleigh and red suit, then he and the Mrs. head to the Northbridge Mall to find out what the children really want for Christmas.
For the couple, the public role of Santa and Mrs. Claus began many years ago when their children no longer came home for the Christmas holiday. Because of this, Santa says “we decided to invade the Christmases of others.”
And the couple has done this in a most delightful manner.
Beginning his tenth year at the Albert Lea shopping center, the jolly fellow says children frequently ask him if he is the real Santa.
“Instead of giving them a direct answer,” says Santa, “I ask them are you the real kid?”
He says the children then study him from head to foot, with some even wanting to touch his beard.
“I tell them they can touch my beard, but they must grab a handful and not just a couple of hairs or it will hurt me,” he says. Wincing, he recalls the times when the children did not heed his advice.
Having Mrs. Claus nearby, handing out candy canes, also makes believers out of the children. Soon they are convinced he is the real deal.
When he was to make his first appearance at the mall, Mrs. Claus was not in the picture.
“I told him,” says Mrs. Claus, “if you think I’m staying home alone on Christmas Eve you’re crazy!”
Mrs. Claus, who has always loved to sew, quickly stitched them matching corduroy outfits that first year. They soon discovered, however, they needed the heavier and more plush North Pole suits if they were to return to the Minnesota mall the following year.
And ever since, the couple has enjoyed listening to the requests of the area children.
Of course, after each Christmas season Santa says it will be his final year at the mall. But, he adds with a grin, by August it sounds pretty good to him again, so he dons the suit to spend time again with the littleones and the believers.
“I guess I just like the little kids,” he says. “For a minute they’re in a different world.”
Mrs. Claus adds, “I just enjoy it. Maybe it transports us into a different world too.”
That different world is filled with wishes and dreams that Santa and Mrs. Claus cannot always fulfill, but they can listen.
“I never promise a kid anything,” says Santa who has been known to do after-Christmas special deliveries to homes. “When I show-up with a gift the child really wanted, I just say I forgot it in my sleigh when I made my first stop.”
Santa recalls a three-year old who was a “real stitch” when she came dancing up to him.
“I asked her if she had been a good little girl,” he says. She answered me by saying, “No, I opened all my presents.”
“I told her I keep track of who has been naughty and nice, but not to worry, because I always throw the book away on Dec. 1,” he chuckles.
Santa has had some requests over the years that have either brought a smile to his lips or tears to his eyes.
“There was the time when a little three-year old boy asked me for a girlfriend,” chuckles Santa. “I asked if he wanted a blonde or a brunette. The little guy said he wanted a red head!”
Santa says many of the children ask him for ‘puters (computers), laptops, Xbox, Guitar Hero and cell phones.
“If it plugs in or has batteries, children want it,” says Santa.
“The little kids have gotten high tech,” admits Santa. “They really know electronics. This is probably one of the biggest changes I have seen over the years.”
But he still gets requests for dump trucks, Barbie dolls, Hannah Montana items and toy farm equipment. One item he hardly hears any child wanting anymore is a teddy bear.
“I ask them if they want the farm equipment to be red,” says Santa with a twinkle in his eye, “but 99 percent of them say green.”
Like life, not everything Santa is told is simple to deal with.
Santa says he had a four-year old boy ask him for a new boyfriend for his mom who wasn’t mean. Then there was another child who wished for a meal where he could eat without yelling going on at the table.
He says he seldom uses his loud “ho, ho, ho” voice as it often scares the younger children. Instead, he prefers speaking softly to the little ones. By giving candy canes, having Mrs. Claus nearby and making them think they are the only and therefore most important child to him, he says the children are more apt to open up to him with their wishes.
“If the kids want to talk, I listen,”says Santa. “I might direct a question now and then to keep them talking though.”
His kids range in age from zero to 96. He and the Mrs. are amazed how many older people come to visit them .
“A three-year old wouldn’t be as happy as a 96-year old was who came to talk to me one day,” recalls Santa. “She told me she didn’t think they had Santa when she was a kid.”
It’s just as amazing to see how many of the kids are programmed and steered away from him by the adults. He says children have had it drilled into them “not to talk to strangers,” and even Santa Claus fits into this category in the eyes of today’s society.
Just as he sees a number of wary parents and children, he and Mrs. Claus recently saw a very trusting family.
“A young mother stopped with her children to visit with me,” recalls Santa of one of the more humorous incidents he has experienced in the shopping center.
“She had two little ones, plus a beautiful little baby she let me hold. After the kids told me of their wishes, the mother gathered her children and hurried off to do more shopping. But, she forgot the baby in my arms! I wasn’t alarmed, as I knew she would return, so I just sat holding and enjoying the baby. After about five minutes, the frantic mother came racing back, very embarrassed and apologetic.”
Santa confesses he has never been wet on by a baby or toddler, but he has been handed a wet one.
“It was a done deal,” he says with a grin in regards to these incidents.
Of course, he says he gets the usual questions every year from children about his reindeer and elves.
“When they ask me where my elves are, I tell the children they had better be making toys,” he says.
Santa has had some youngsters tell him they thought the elves took care of him and Mrs. Claus.
Over the past 10 years, he and his wife have visited, on several different occasions, with over 100 children in a day. The couple says they have learned who they can joke with and who they can talk loudly to. At any rate, they say they “play to the crowd.”
For the 13 and 14-year old, he says they are still children at heart too, because they often want a picture of themselves with Santa.
The kids he sees are the same but different. In other words, Santa says children are children.
“We have a lot of repeats from year-to-year,” he says. “We get attached to people. We may not remember their names, but we remember their faces.”
Even though the pair say they shouldn’t have favorites, they have become quite attached to a set of twins who were 2 1/2 pound preemies when they were born six years ago. This family visits them at the mall for a photo every year.
If the duo is not busy at the mall, they have done private home visits, appeared in their Christmas finery at a wedding reception, visited daycares and nursing homes.
One time, while dressed in plain clothes, they even attended a funeral service in which the deceased person had written in her eulogy, she was thankful for family, friends, and Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. This was the one time, Santa says, “I lost it and broke down in tears.”
He says at Christmas time he always makes it a point to tell little children they might not always get what they want, but they’ll have a good time anyway.
“I tell them to keep their eyes open to the real meaning of Christmas,” says Santa.
In the off-season, when their sleigh is put away and the sports car is backed-out of the garage again, they resume their involvement with community activities and once again become simply Jack and Alice Moon.
As in the case of this Kiester couple, there are times when we need to pretend to believe in things we know not to be true. The world would truly be a poorer, less enchanted place to live in if we did not believe Santa Claus exists. Year round, Santa stands for kindness and generosity. These things are alive and will continue to be alive through Santa…as long as we believe.