A day in the life of Don Perrin, better known as Santa at the Victoria Mall
Dec. 24, 2011 at 6:24 a.m.
The bearded man on the green velvet seat let out a gentle smile as he bent to greet the tiny tot making her way up for a visit.
But with every step forward, 2-year-old Jazzlin Reyes - a bashful little girl with shiny black shoes - took two steps back, to the safety of Mom and Dad.
The setback was nothing for Santa, who ushered up Mom, Julye Guzman, and Dad, Fernando Reyes, to bolster the child's confidence.
"Sometimes I recruit the family," said Santa, who goes by Don Perrin the rest of the year. "Or older siblings. It's the only way it works sometimes."
Perrin is no newbie to the world of Kris Kringle. With 10 years' experience as Santa Claus - three in Victoria alone - he said he's learned the ins and outs that come with wearing the big red suit.
Going in prepared
The ability to read children who visit Santa is important, Perrin said. While some are eager to plop onto his lap and read off lists, others are more standoffish.
"Little ones, when they're going to cry, I can feel that," he said. "They tense up, but I can handle it. When they start kicking, I stop."
Still others speak so quietly that all he can do is smile and agree with them.
On Dec. 12, Perrin found himself face-to-face with 48 squirmy, excited preschoolers from Placedo Elementary School. He kept his cool and a smile on his face as, one by one, they filed through line and then posed for a group picture.
"It's like herding cats," Perrin said with a broad grin as he watched the teachers and helpers organize the group.
Renee Davenport, who manages the Victoria Mall Santa set, said her favorite part is witnessing the children's encounters with St. Nick.
"I love watching their faces," she said, adjusting her red apron. "Some of the kids are so serious, all business. Others get this magical look on their faces."
Of course, when things go awry, as sometimes happens when little ones are involved, Santa and his helpers are prepared.
"We keep Febreeze and Lysol on hand, just in case," Davenport said.
Making a list, checking it twice
Electronics such as iPads and iPods top this year's wish lists, but Perrin said that, in his years spent representing the North Pole's No. 1 big guy, he's come across some interesting requests.
Some tween girls ask for firearms - a request Perrin always follows up with an assurance that the child has completed a hunter safety course - and a 5- or 6-year-old girl recently hinted at diamonds.
"I asked her mom about that one and she said, 'Her uncle put her up to that,'" Perrin said.
Not everyone aims so high.
Davenport said a little boy who recently visited asked for a storage container, an idea his mom said she could get behind as a place to store his toys. Another boy wanted a stick.
"I guess he'd heard the story of David and Goliath, and David carries a stick," she said, shrugging her shoulders. "But that's what he wanted."
Regardless of the wish, Perrin said he's careful with his responses.
"I always tell them 'Santa will do his very best to get you what you want for Christmas,'" he said. "I never make promises."
Perrin's likeness to Father Christmas goes beyond the well-known red and white suit.
His long, white beard is 100 percent real, he said, noting he no longer knows what he would look like clean shaven.
And, although he doesn't have access to flying reindeer, Perrin enjoys traveling just as much as the real Santa does.
He worked on the ground with Trans World Airlines for 32 years. During that time, he worked with 13 different airlines, from California to Ohio.
"I still think in airline codes," he said with a chuckle.
He has lived all over, from his native Ohio to Colorado, where he attended professional Santa school, to Hawaii and more.
Next Christmas season, he even hopes to spread holiday cheer in Asia, serving as Santa overseas. He originally planned to spend this Christmas season in Japan, he explained, but the tsunami put a stop to that.
"It's something I've wanted to do for a while now," the 71-year-old said from behind his bifocal spectacles. "We'll see."
Also, like his jolly counterpart, Christmas Day is finally time for Perrin to stop, breathe and return to life as normal.
He plans to climb into his car that day and drive home to Missouri to see Dianne Perrin, his own Mrs. Claus. He hasn't seen her since just before Thanksgiving, when he made his way to the Crossroads.
"We talk every day, though," he said. "I love cell phones."
The weeks after Christmas take some adjustment, Perrin said, admitting he gets used to greeting passersby with a hearty "Merry Christmas" in the mall.
"I'll go to the grocery in January or February and still want to say it," he said. "I have to catch myself."
That isn't the only adjustment that lies ahead.
With plans to relocate to Colorado, Perrin and Mrs. Claus are still looking for a place to call home. Their current home already sold, he said, and they close around Jan. 30.
New house or not, Perrin still plans to continue his time in the Santa biz.
"I enjoy people, and I enjoy working with the little guys," he said, perched amid the mall's winter wonderland. "I love what I do."