Who's that jolly, old man in the red and white velvety suit, who leans his ear to listen to all children to hear what they want for Christmas?
Well, Santa Claus of course.
One tale parents tell their young children is that Santa cannot be everywhere and that's why he has many Santa clones who help him all over the world to visit a variety of places, such as malls or retail stores, community festivals or holiday villages. These Santa clones help the "real" Santa gather the Christmas lists of every boy and girl.
In the Brainerd lakes area, there are quite a few Santas around and children most likely won't know if they are visiting the "real" Santa or his helpers.
Allie Goeritz, a 13-month-old Brainerd resident, recently sat on Santa's lap at the Northland Arboretum during the Winter Wonderland event. This Santa is being played by Dick Stoltman.
Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Mark Ulm, who coordinates Nisswa's City of Lights, at first claimed that the festival hosts the "real" Santa. But Ulm later had to confess that Mike Murphy has played Santa for the past 20 years.
"I play a soft-spoken Santa," said Murphy. "I try not to be the Santa sitting in a big chair because that can get scary for them. I get down on my knees so I'm at their eye level.
"It's a lot of fun to play Santa. The rewards of the kids has kept me there. It's fun to see them and hear all their questions. I try to avoid the ones I don't know"
Murphy, 57, Baxter, said a question that got him this year was a child asked him if he knew God and asked what God does. Murphy told the child that he did know God and he said, "God does everything."
Murphy said this year a lot of the children asked for iPods, Wii systems, guitars and Barbies. They also asked for kittens, puppies and horses. One item that was asked by an older children, Murphy said he couldn't do. The child asked for new siblings.
This year was a first for Murphy where he took part in a wedding proposal. The boyfriend gave Murphy an engagement ring early on during the City of Lights event held Nov. 27 and then he and his girlfriend waited in line. When the girlfriend made it up to Santa, Murphy said, "You must have been a good girl this year," and he handed her the jewelry box. Then the boyfriend opened up the box and proposed.
"She was in tears and was as happy as could be," said Murphy.
Murphy said some children are scared of Santa so he will offer them a candy cane to get them closer and then he'll ask them what they want for Christmas.
"The scariest child I ever had was my own grandchild when she was real young," said Murphy.
If you go through Sertoma's Winter Wonderland at the Northland Arboretum you might run into Dick Stoltman who plays Santa for this event.
Mike Murphy of Baxter has played Santa for the past 20 years at Nisswa's City of Lights event. At this year's event Murphy got to play a part in a wedding proposal. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"Playing Santa seemed like a fun thing to do," said Stoltman. "To see the marvel of Christmas in the kids' eyes and to see their enthusiasm. It's a neat thing to see. The kids really get into it. It's fun to see them believe in the magic of Christmas."
Stoltman said when he plays Santa he uses a deeper voice. He said he also always tells the children to be good, to help their parents when they can, to be a good helper and to share.
Stoltman was surprised last year with what the children were asking Santa for Christmas.
"They didn't ask for the big glamour, glitzy gifts," said Stoltman. "They asked for the simple requests like trucks and dolls. Not a Wii or PlayStation. I was happy to see that. Our society is so materialistic, but kids are relatively simple."
Stoltman said there are about five others who play Santa for Winter Wonderland. And he's happy that he's retired and has the time to play Santa.
And then there's the Santa at the Holiday Village and the Santas who talk to all the little boys and girls at many other Brainerd lakes area festivals that the children will have a chance to visit this Christmas season.
The only question that remains with all of these Santas is: Who is the "real Santa.?"
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.
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