He’s what’s called a reluctant Santa.
“I didn’t want to be a Santa. … I had never any dreams or thoughts of ever being a Santa.”
One Christmas-time almost 10 years ago, Larry Angell was attending a Christmas party at Micron with his wife and grandchildren in tow. A lady tapped him on the shoulder: They needed a Santa for the next night and would he please consider? He’d brushed her off with what he thought were deal-breaking questions, but with every protest, she’d go find the answer and sure enough, he’d feel a tap on his shoulder again.
Larry always had a seasonal beard — it appeared around hunting season and disappeared about Valentine’s Day (or the first day it got to 70 degrees) — and over the years, it changed to salt and pepper, and then more-white-than-gray. Hence the persistent tapping on his shoulder.
Worn down, he agreed, not knowing the importance of that reluctant yes.
“I thought, well, I have 13 grandchildren, I should be able to handle a couple of children coming in and asking (for things).”
The next night, he was assigned two elves to help him get dressed. He was petrified. They got him into the red suit and the belt, the hat and the spats. He didn’t need the beard, of course. They sat him in a chair, took some test photos and declared him ready.
“And they opened the curtains, and the look on those first two children’s faces when they looked in and saw a real-bearded Santa — pretty much just melted my heart. For the next three hours, I listened to children. ...
“I was chosen to become Santa. And once you’ve been chosen, or you get your calling, you can either accept it and go for it and make the best out of it that you can — or you can simply go hide and lay on the couch.”
• • •
That February, Larry’s wife wondered when he was going to shave.
Diane: “He said, no, I’m Santa. (I thought), oh? Now I’m married to Santa?”
Larry has had several careers in his life — he was an EMT before he worked as an engineering tech at Micron. (He’s now retired.) In each job, he strived to learn more and more.
“So I simply chose to try to become the best Santa that I can be. …”
Larry picked a school. Over the last nine years, he received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Santa Claus-ology. He’s thinking about his doctorate.
“I felt like I could not stop. I’ve always tried to better myself. … (It was one of the schools) that actually taught me to become Santa. Our first assignment: … ‘OK, Santa. What’s your schedule this morning?’ ”
Well, think about it. He got up, had cocoa, then a meeting with the elves. The reindeer got out of the barn and were playing hockey with beets in Mrs. Claus’ garden. Then there was an issue with paint in the toy factory and the elves are running out of memory in the “super-duper computer banks” where they’re digitizing all those letters to Santa. And that’s just before lunch.
“I try to develop my habits within that character. It’s something I think about: Well, what would Santa Claus do? What would Santa say for this?”
It was at school that he also learned the finer points of both being a very good Santa and running a business. He pays for a background check every year and has entertainer’s liability insurance.
“ ... to protect, promote and portray confidence with our customers that you’re getting the genuine best-that-you-can-get Santa Claus.”
He’s learned how to minimize panicky infants, deal with naughty children, avoid tricky situations that don’t measure up to Santa’s image and to answer the myriad questions that kids — and adults — can ask.
When kids come in with lengthy lists, he reminds them that there’s only so much room in the sleigh and which one — one — thing is top of the list? And that, according to the FAA and PETA and the Humane Society, he’s not allowed to bring live animals on the sleigh without special permission, including from parents. He never promises. And when kids ask if he’s the real Santa, he’s got the answer to that one, too.
“I’ll say, well, according to the SBBSS, which is Santa’s Big Book of Super-Secret Stuff, Santa’s not allowed to answer that question. ...
“Only you can answer that question for yourself, whether you believe that I am the real Santa or — perhaps — one of Santa’s angels. ...
“(Which is something I made up, of course, because of my name.)”
He signed up with Santa America, a volunteer organization that makes Santa available 365 days a year. He took end-of-life training, became affiliated with a hospice and went, whenever he was needed. Life-changing events, even for Santa.
Before one appearance, Santa Larry was warned that the sick little girl with cancer hadn’t smiled in a long time and, without a doubt, she wouldn’t sit in his lap.
“(But) she just lit up. She came over and sat on my lap and she smiled. ... The family said she hadn’t been that happy ... in a long time. It was a blessing for them.”
Another young patient didn’t live long enough for Santa to visit, but the family wanted to see him anyway. There were other children there, and Santa made the event merry.
“(I told them) yes, Santa has an opportunity to pass through heaven on his rounds and I was able to see her. And she was happy. She was peaceful; she was OK. The words just came to me; I have no idea what I said even to this day.”
Another family had lost their Christmas spirit — a mom and another family member had died at previous Christmases, and an elderly gentleman was near death. Santa wore his red shorts and Hawaiian shirt and brought little scarves with mittens on each end — a “hug” from Santa.
“I sat there for a while and talked to him a bit. You always say stupid things, I guess. I said, ‘What would you like for Christmas this year?’ ... He looked up and he smiled at me and he said, ‘I’m good,’ meaning he didn’t need anything for Christmas. He passed the next day.”
Santa can’t keep all the emotion out of his voice as he remembers some of the stories.
“I have a lot of adults come in saying I just need my house payment next month, or I need a job, or the children will ask for their parents to have a better job. ...
“I’ve had the homeless come in and ask for help. There are times it’s dumbfounding; I’m speechless, I don’t know what to say. What I can do? Other than perhaps we can pray and see what we can come up with.
“They look to Santa for the answers.”
One little girl wanted to know if Santa got to see God in his travels. Another little boy asked if Santa could take a message to his mother.
“Thinking maybe she was in prison or the hospital or something (I said), well, yes, I can see if I can do that for you. Where is she? He said, she’s in heaven.”
The little boy wanted to know what his mother wanted for Christmas.
“I said, oh, I will do that. But I think I know what she’ll say: I think she’ll say she wants to know that you’re happy and she loves you.”
• • •
Santa Larry used to have a full calendar of home visits, special events and appearances. These days, though, he’s booked solid, every day, from the middle of November till Christmas Eve at The Village in Meridian.
He’ll miss his grandchildren’s holiday performances and his wife’s birthday on Dec. 12, with no time off for Christmas shopping or decorating or his family. (“We get him Christmas Day,” says Diane.) And it’s a huge responsibility: There is no backup Santa.
“I think we all have to be who we are. We’re all special; we have to capitalize on what God has given us. God has given me this look for a reason. … And all that I can give as Santa is myself. …
“We’re there to make memories. I try to treat every family like that’s the first family I’ve seen and that I’m so excited to see them. And to carry that enthusiasm through every day — every hour — every family — every child — till the very last child in line has been seen by Santa.”
Because it’s always about the children. It always has been.
“Even Saint Nicholas was there for the children. To promote the love, the peace, the hope, the joy, the giving. That there is more to giving than just receiving those gifts. …
“My responsibility as Santa is to simply be Santa. … I’m there for the experience and for the memories of Santa being able to listen to children, to answer any questions they might have — and to offer them hope that it’s still good to be good.”
That’s Santa Larry’s important message.
“(You’re) the only you that there is. There is no other you. So be the best you that you can be.”
So Santa summers in Kuna?
Larry Angell: “I have a portal here. … I’ll go in (to my office at the North Pole); I’ll have my meetings. We’ll work on toys. But otherwise, then I have the opportunity to come (to)… the Santa House there at The Village with the skating rink in the back. It gives me an opportunity to talk to the children. But when I leave there, I end up having to go back to the North Pole.”
Perhaps you’ve seen him around town — golfing in his red knickers and beanie, his green shirt and suspenders. Or shopping or out mowing the lawn and not wearing red (although it is his favorite color).
“It doesn’t seem to matter (what I wear). When you look like this from the head up. …”
He’s always on. He’s gotten used to people sneaking his photo or kids running up to him on any day of the year. It means he always has to be good — and it’s hard, just like the kids say. He tries not to be grumpy; he doesn’t drink or smoke or swear because — well, Santa just doesn’t do that.
And the neighbor kids next door? Lucky them. They knock on the door, ask for Santa and get to pepper him with questions. All year long
See Santa at The Village
12-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 12-6 p.m. Sundays. 12-4 p.m. on Christmas Eve. See the website for details. Santa’s tip: Come early in the season when he might have time for extra-special attention.
Are you feeling the calling?
The Idaho chapter of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas is always looking for Santas, Mrs. Clauses, reindeer trainers and elves. Contact Larry Angell after the holidays: Santaangell@me.com