Becoming Santa: four Father Christmases on the magic of stepping into his big, black boots

No Christmas is complete without a visit to Santa Claus. Here, four of them share what they love about donning the red suit

For the men who portray Father Christmas, being the big man for the festive season is something they look forward to all year. Unsplash
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For many parents in the UAE, Christmas plans are most likely to involve a visit to Santa.

With helper elves, a festive atmosphere and the chance for children to tell the big man what they would like in their stocking this year, a trip to Santa's grotto is a family favourite that has changed very little over the years.

While it may look like an easy job, sitting down all day and listening to Christmas wishes, there’s plenty of hard work that goes on behind the scenes, as well as emotional and humbling moments.

We spoke to four Santas about what they love about the job.

‘Being part of the magic gives me a huge sense of peace and enchantment’

Father Christmas at the City Centre Deira grotto says 'patience, passion and kindness' are needed to best portray Santa. Photo: Photo: City Centre Deira

When you're not being Santa, who are you?

To keep the magic going beyond screens, my name is Father Christmas 2.0. The second and nearest version of the real Santa. I am a young Lebanese dreamer, 30 years young, living in Beirut.

How did you become Santa Claus?

A few years ago, my journey as Santa Claus began. I attended an open casting call searching for the most talented Santa impersonator in town. Thanks to my background in theatre I was chosen for the role. Since then, I have been touring the world spreading holiday joy across the globe.

What character traits does it take to be a good Santa?

I believe that it takes innate traits deep within one’s spirit to form this unique character. There is no guide or book to read and learn from. It is an essence that comes naturally from within. The most important characteristics include patience, passion, kindness, vulnerability, compassion and love.

What do you enjoy about being Santa?

The part I enjoy most is the travel opportunities I get, which grant me the possibility of discovering different traditions and meeting people from diverse cultures. Communicating with young, innocent minds and seeing how their minds fast evolve on a yearly basis is something that never fails to leave me in awe.

What is it like to work with children all day?

It can be mentally and physically exhausting. However, with the right training and mindset, it can turn into the most wonderful life experience. Their little wishes, the spark in their eyes and wide smiles makes you forget any chaos and responsibilities in the outside world and make you realise how pure and delightful life is.

Have you had any memorable moments as Santa?

Moments that consist of wishes beyond materialistic ventures, toys or electronics in which kids tend to be struggling in some aspect of life, where all they ask for is something that brings back the normalcy into their lives. These moments especially remind me of my goal and mission, which is to try and spread as much of hope and strength possible to make them feel secure.

How do you feel about being a part of such a magical time of year?

Being part of the magic gives me a huge sense of peace and enchantment. After being busy the entire year, I love allocating the month of December to jump into my sleigh, put the weight of life behind and fly into a land far away from all reality. In fact, handing me the trust to do so is a huge honour for me, which I will continue doing for the rest of my life. It has become part of my legacy.

Visit Santa’s Grotto at City Centre Deira’s Food Central. Open from December 16 – 25, 4pm – 9pm

‘Believing in the magic of the occasion is essential’

Anthony Stuart Lloyd says his theatrical background helped him to prepare to be Father Christmas. Photo: WinterFest by McGettigan’s

When you're not being Santa, who are you?

I’m Anthony Stuart Lloyd, aged 56, from Wales.

How did you become Santa Claus?

I saw a post on LinkedIn about the preparations for FanZone and WinterFest by McGettigan’s at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. So I put the feelers out and before I knew it I was on a Zoom meeting discussing their requirements. As a classically trained singer and voice-over artist, I suppose I was not your usual Santa, so we worked on me singing at the official opening show with a local school choir and then a solo rendition of It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

What character traits does it take to be a good Santa?

Santa is known for being eternally jolly, therefore being happy and positive is a prerequisite to fill his rather big boots. He is known to bring gifts to all children all over the world in just one night, so an element of being a dreamer and believing in the magic of the occasion is essential.

What do you enjoy about being Santa?

This is such a magical time for children and it is truly amazing to be a part of lasting memories for the little ones. Seeing the joy and awe when they first see you is very sweet, and in a modern world this lasting tradition is something I am very proud to be a part of upholding.

What is it like to work with children all day?

They say never work with children, however I couldn’t disagree more. Children are very honest and these days extremely switched on. When you see the twinkle in their eyes leading up to Christmas and how their imaginations run wild with the narrative of Santa, well it really is something quite special.

Have you had any memorable moments as Santa?

A child recently asked me if I had an electric sleigh because his father now had an electric car which was better for the environment. I explained how the reindeer actually did the vast majority of the work, keeping fuel costs down. I did remind him that the carrots fuel the reindeer and not to forget to leave them out. Again, this demonstrates that as the world evolves, Christmas is a tradition and story that never fades.

How do you feel about being a part of such a magical time of year?

Very, very proud. Just like with children, Santa sees all and I am happy that I continue to earn my place on the nice list and I’m invited back year after year.

Visit Santa in his Grotto at WinterFest by McGettigan’s at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre every day from 12.30pm until 8.30pm (6.30pm on Monday 20 and 24) Dh75 a child (extra siblings Dh50 each), which includes a gift and framed photograph to take home

‘It’s an amazing honour to share their lives and memories’

Now in his 54th year as Father Christmas, Santa Rick also runs a school in the US, which teaches future Santa and Mrs Clauses. Photo: Santa Rick

When you're not being Santa, who are you?

I’m Santa Rick, and I live in the North Pole. I’m 70 years old and this is my 54th year as Santa. With my wife, I own and operate the second largest Santa school in the USA, the Northern Lights Santa Academy, where we train Santas and Mrs Clauses.

How did you become Santa Claus?

When I was in high school I liked to entertain my fellow students in 10th grade, and after high school it became about entertaining kids. It’s amazing to be Santa because he’s the one guy who is totally different from everyone in the world. He’s not immortal but he knew your great-grandmother, your grandparents and parents, and he knows all about you.

What character traits does it take to be a good Santa?

The first thing is that you have to love yourself so you can love others and emanate a positive flow. You also have to be non-judgmental and think like Santa if you’re going to be him. Ask yourself: “What would Santa do?” And if you follow that in your life, you will be able to be Santa.

What do you enjoy about being Santa?

It’s an amazing honour because people share their lives and memories with you and they’re so happy when they see you. You feel better when you see Santa and he brings out the best in people. That’s the spirit of Christmas and it is an amazing power.

What is it like to work with children all day?

I’m visited by children from ages two to 92, and the people who visit with Santa share their lives with you, which is a humbling experience and an honour. You do also hear sad things, such as when children ask you to help stop their parents fighting or to bring back mum and dad. A psychiatrist has a year to talk through those problems and Santa has just a few moments to say something comforting. We also get to hear magnificent things and get to share in such intimate moments.

Have you had any memorable moments as Santa?

Some of the most beautiful moments I’ve had have been at senior facilities, where you have people who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s, that kind of thing. I’ve had experiences where people who don’t recognise their own children recognise Santa, which is very humbling.

How do you feel about being a part of such a magical time of year?

I’m not telling you that I may actually be Santa or that I’m in line to be the next Santa, but I really strive to be that guy everyone knows and loves. Someone who loves and trusts and believes in the goodness within people. I do everything I can to promote a better and more positive experience.

Visit www.santarick.com and www.northernightsacademy.com for more information on when the next Santa school is in session

‘People from all different countries and cultures come for the Santa experience’

William Martin flew from South Africa to be Santa at Expo. Photo: William Martin

When you're not being Santa, who are you?

My name is William Martin. I’m 78, and I’m originally from the UK but have lived in South Africa for 35 years. We come over to the UAE two or three times a year to visit family. This year I have been Father Christmas at Expo.

How did you become Santa Claus?

I’ve been in the theatre industry for about 25 years, and when we would have our end-of-year parties for the students, I would be Santa just for fun, nothing professional. It’s only been over these past few years since my daughter moved to Dubai that I come over and become Santa at events.

What character traits does it take to be a good Santa?

I think the most important thing to have is patience, especially when you’re somewhere as busy as Expo. Often you don’t have much time with each child, because you want to ask them what they want for Christmas and take a photo with them and their family. Also, if the child doesn’t want to sit on your lap, you have to be ready to change things up a bit to suit them.

What do you enjoy about being Santa?

Although it’s a Christian tradition I like that people from all different countries and cultures come to visit for the Santa experience. Everyone is just happy to come because Father Christmas brings happiness.

What is it like to work with children all day?

Personally, I love working with little kids, I think they’re fabulous.

Have you had any memorable moments as Santa?

For me, when I get visits from differently abled children it’s very special, especially seeing the joy on the parents’ faces watching their child so happy. It’s such a pleasure seeing them.

How do you feel about being a part of such a magical time of year?

It’s great. It’s up to you to have to make it a success every year no matter what’s happening in the world. There’s never a downside. This time of year is about celebrating life and coming together.

Updated: December 21, 2022, 4:25 AM