More about Jim Lockwood, “Webster’s Santa”

24 Dec

When I sat down with Jim and Jeannette Lockwood last week in the comfortable living room of their Lake Road home, I knew it was going to be an enjoyable conversation. After all, I had met Jim several times previously, and knew he was a very friendly fellow.

The first time was a year ago, when he was sitting in the gazebo at Towne Center (Target Plaza). I had gone by to take some photos for my blog, and started up a conversation with Santa. I discovered that Jim was a Webster resident and a regular on the Webster Santa scene, including White Christmas in the Village. I decided right then and there that I wanted to devote a story — or at least a blog — to him and his experiences as Santa.

Fast forward one year. I started thinking about what I should write for my holiday week column, which just so happens would land squarely on Christmas Day. The previous year’s conversation with Jim came to mind. It was the perfect answer.

So I got Jim’s phone number from the village, and called him up one day. He was more than happy to meet with me, and we arranged to meet the following Wednesday at Barry’s Old School Irish in the village.

You might remember that Wednesday. It snowed. A lot. There was so much snow that even Santa shouldn’t have been be driving (at least not without Rudolph). So I called Jim to reschedule for the next Monday.

The next Monday I was on the couch all day with a bad back. I called Jim again. It looked like I might never get to meet Santa.

Third time’s the charm, as they say. Later that week the weather was good and my back was behaving, and I finally was able to make my interview with Santa.

We talked for more than an hour. It was fascinating to hear his stories and the knowledge he has gained in his 20 years of playing Santa. I learned so much more than I could have ever stuffed into my 600-word column (as it is, I ran long with the hopes my editors wouldn’t cut it down too much). I had to remove so much cool information to make it an acceptable length. I think it’s still a pretty interesting column, but I wish I could have included so much more.

And so that’s what I’m doing here.

If you’re interested, here are the more complete answers Santa Jim gave to my questions, including ones I touched on in the column, and several others I didn’t have room for.

How does someone who needs a Santa go about contacting and booking one?

Jim is listed on two different online agencies, Gigmaster and Gig Salad. Most first-time bookings come through those two sites. “I’ve had to turn down 50, 60 people already,” he told me. “My weekends are booked. Everybody wants a Santa on a weekend.” On the day of my interview, he had three or four emails waiting for responses, and he got another call while I was there.

When do you first put on the Santa suit?

His first event every year is the second Saturday in November, when he arrives at the Eastview Mall in a limousine.

“(The organizer) gets hundreds of kids in front of the mall. I don’t know where they come from. A limousine picks me up, they drive me around to the front. The limousine guy talks to the kids for a second, he opens the door and I greet all the children. Inside the mall doors is the Fairport Marching Band. We parade through the entire mall. It’s like ten miles. Inviting al the children to join us. It’s like the Pied Piper.”

How many events does Jeannette attend with him as Mrs. Claus?

“As little as possible,” she said. “I’m not like him; I’m not a forward person. It’s overwhelming to me.” Two events Jeannette always accompanies Jim to are the Webster’s White Christmas in the Village Offices and the Webster Volunteer Firemen’s Christmas Party the next day. Jim added, “They want to keep the same Santa to do both because a lot of the same children will go to both functions. So the fire department and the village work together to have the same Santa.”

Is the beard real?

Yes. He’ll shave it off immediately following his last event on the 27th, start growing it again in March, and start bleaching in September.

Do a lot of kids pull on the beard?

No, but they like to run their fingers through it. It’s the older women who yank on it. They say “I’ve always wanted to do that.”

How many children cry?

Some, but not as many as you might think. “There’s an age group.” For children ages 1 to 3, he says, “Chances are about 50/50. The 2-year olds are gonna cry.”

Do kids ever come up to you when you’re not in your suit and ask if you’re Santa?

Yes, but not a lot.

“If a child comes up to me and says, ‘Are you Santa?’, I’ll look at him and say, ‘No, I’m not Santa, but I heard he’s a great guy,’ or ‘Santa’s my brother.’”

“When I go out I don’t dress as Santa. I think Santa belongs in red suit in the appropriate places….I will not admit to anybody that I’m Santa when I’m not in a suit. Even when you’re in the suit you never admit to being Santa. You portray Santa. You’re not Santa.”

What do kids ask for?

“The most common one is anything from the Frozen movie. They’re all wearing the costume, they come up to me, they have the little dresses. They know all the characters’ names.”

For the boys, “Little tots want tractors and they want trains and planes and everything. When they get into the 7 and 8 and 9 years old all of a sudden it’s iPhones, Ipads, smartphones, stuff they see their mom and dad use. They don’t even know what it is but they’re asking for it.”

“A good percentage just freeze up and they can’t remember what they want.”

“I’ve had some very serious, sad incidents where children have come up and (ask), ‘Can you bring Daddy home he’s in prison. You go to school to learn what to say. And that would be, ‘You know, he’s good at making toys, and he can bring stuff like toys and puppies, but there’s some things Santa can’t do. But I’ll pray with you that Daddy’s safe.”

“I get a lot of them that mommy’s sick, she’s got cancer, she’s in the hospital. I’ll pray with them right there.”

“There was a little guy about three years ago, he could hardly talk and I put him up on my knee. …I said to him, what would you like for Christmas? And he said ‘dirt.’ Just as plain as that, he wanted dirt. I looked at his mother and she says, ‘He wants dirt. He’s used to playing outside in the summertime with his cars and his trucks in dirt.’ He wanted Santa to bring him dirt so he could play inside.”

Do any kids tell you you’re not real?

“I’ve had very few children tell me there is no Santa. I’m not saying they’re believers, but nobody is going to admit there’s no Santa.”

“When children get to be about 6 or 7 or 8 years old, they’re starting to really question Santa; you might get another year or two out of them because they’re afraid to admit that Santa doesn’t exist because they’re not going to get anything. When they get to be about 9 or 10 years old they know, but they’re not going to admit it, because they’re going to get a gift from Mom or Dad but, they’re going to get one from Santa too.”

“So it’s a game that’s played.”

Tell me more about the “Santa School”

“Santa School” is officially called the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School. It’s in Midland, Mich., but actually began in 1937 on Charlie Howard’s farm in Albion, NY. “If you want to be a Santa this is where you go,” Jim said. It’s where “you learn how to be Santa.”

The three-week course is held every summer, and they only take 80 students, a mix of brand new and experienced Santas.

They teach you “how to transform yourself from Joe Blow into Santa Claus. You learn how to dress head to toe, apply makeup, rosy cheeks. if you have a real beard they have a hairdresser there to show you all the products that you use. If you’re a ‘traditional’ bearded Santas, they have people there who specialize in wigs, teach you how to comb out a wig.
Make you be the best Santa that you can be

“Then they start on how you talk to children, how can you identify children from ten feet away. How you know what you hope to expect. When you’re talking to one child, you’re kinda of eyeballing the next one.”

“Do they have limitations? You try to identify which ones. You try to guess their age. That’s pretty easy to do — just ask them what grade they’re in. If they’re not school age yet, you say ‘Wow, when was your last birthday?’ or ‘Didn’t you just have birthday?’ Then they’ll say, ‘Oh yes, I’m TWO now!’”

“There’s little things that help you along talking to children.”

“We do an interview with a radio personality like you’re on the radio. He throws you some real tough questions sometimes. Helps you learn to act on your feet.”

They teach you how to present yourself in a parade. Santa doesn’t do the Di wave. Like when I’m on the firetruck (at the Webster parade), there’s thousands of kids. You try to pick out, point your finger at two or three kids, try to get their attention, and they’re saying ‘Wow, Santa sees me, he knows me.’ It just brings a personal contact with the children.”

“If you’re walking, you have to wave to both sides, be really active all the time, looking at children, look at both sides.”

They also have exercise classes.

“Most of us are old fat guys The clock is ticking, we know that. They want to keep Santa healthy. You gotta to see 80 fat old men, and they bring in this 22 year old girl in tights. ‘C’mon Santas, we’re going to exercise!’”

“Yeah, right.”

There’s also a lawyer there every year who “tells it like it is, how liable you are for all kinds of things. All somebody has to do is make an accusation and you are done.”

“You always wear white gloves. In every picture that Santa is in with a child on his knee.
one hand goes on your knee, and the other hand goes around the child or the lady or the gentleman and you’d better see the fingers on the other side of the picture.”

About his Santa suits (they’re called suits, not costumes):

“I have five suits.” The gold standard are the very expensive Charlie Howard suits, made of 80% wool, 20% rayon. “The suits are still manufactured to his specifications,” crimson red, and hand-sewn with a satin lining.

Wonder if you’ve seen Santa Jim out and about?

Here’s a sample of the places he does every year in addition to his Webster village events:

Gander Mountain, Eastview Mall (he shares this job with four other Santas), Wegmans (441 and 250), Country Club of Rochester, Fabulous Flowers, Ridgemont Country Club, Baywinde, Westside Nursing Home in Greece, Indian Landing School, The Landing at Brighton
Rochester Museum and Science Center, Gates Police Department, and St. Joseph’s homeless shelter and soup kitchen.

He also visits a lot of private parties. One this year was for a woman in Greece. “She’s had so many deaths in the family the last few months. She’s having a party for her family. She write me two letters yesterday, She’s so anxious for Santa to come bring some joy into the family’s life.”

What do you do in the off season?

Believe it or not, he makes Santa hats. Not like the ones you’ll find at the Dollar Store, but finely crafted, hand-sewn and hand-embroidered “casual” Santa hats for sale in the professional Santa marketplace

“I’ve sold over 400 hats to Santa and each hat goes from a range from $75 to $125 per hat.
Other Santas make beautiful belts, buckles, boots.”

It’s really a year-round commitment for Jim.

“The Santa season is one part of it, the other part of it will pick up around February or March. That’s when the serious Santas start thinking about next year. I’ve already got orders for hats for next year.

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