Everyone knows that Santa Claus is a busy guy at this time of year. In addition to overseeing a team of elves responsible for fulfilling the wish lists of children all over the world, he also makes plenty of trips back and forth from the North Pole to visit with children who look forward to hand-delivering letters and sitting on his lap to whisper their requests in his ear.
Like everyone else, Santa has had to take extra precautions to keep himself and others safe in a year like no other, with a global pandemic threatening to put a damper on the holiday season.
But he wasn’t about to let the coronavirus steal his Christmas spirit.
For nearly 20 years, Santa has been saving room on his schedule to make visits to Fowler’s Garden Center in Southampton Village, starting in 2003, when Jerry Lynch owned the business formerly known as Lynch’s, and continuing when Midge Fowler took over in 2015.
Children of all ages from Southampton and surrounding towns have looked forward to visiting him each year, in his cozy setup just to the left of the cash register, and right in front of the motorized train set that sounds out with its authentic train whistle every few minutes.
They have fond memories of sitting on his lap, assured of the fact that it’s really him — and not one of the many helpers he employs who dress up as him at other locations — by occasionally pulling on his beard, which is, of course, real.
He’s been making the trip to Fowler’s for so many years, in fact, that he now often sees the babies and young children of kids who first visited him there so many years ago.
Keeping his commitment to seeing children at Fowler’s this year required a little extra work, but Santa and Midge Fowler worked together to come up with a plan. Ms. Fowler cleared an area outside for Santa, nestling him and his shiny red sleigh (which children wouldn’t get to see in a normal year) among the various plants and trees for sale at the garden center, under a green tent to protect him from the elements. The reindeer are safe and well cared for in a barn at the back end of the property, Santa said.
The Express News Group was lucky enough to secure an interview with Santa just a few days before he had to head back to the North Pole and make arrangements for his big flight.
He spoke about the message he’s tried to send to children in what has been a tough year for many, the most desired toys and gadgets of 2020 and years past, and how he responds to kids when they make requests he can’t fulfill.
“I always enjoy coming to Fowler’s to see old friends, and to see kids growing up,” Santa said.
Santa gave credit to Ms. Fowler for doing “a great job” making sure he could park his sled outside and house his reindeer at Fowler’s during his visits. He said many kids ask to go see his reindeer, but said he reminds them — especially when they are very persistent about wanting to see or pet his reindeer — that they need to make sure they are eating plenty of food and can relax without distraction, so they can be rested up and ready to go for their big night on Christmas Eve.
Santa has also worked hard at being a good role model himself, wearing a mask for all his visits with children and making sure he maintains social distance when they gather outside. Because of the traffic going past on the street outside, and the necessity of not getting too close to each other, he has to remind children to speak up sometimes when they are telling him what they want, but he also takes handwritten letters so there are no misunderstandings.
The one request that Santa can’t fulfill but wishes he could — and which he is hearing a lot these days — is an end to COVID-19. Of course, he can’t grant that wish, but says he tries to remind children what they can do to play their part in making that a reality soon.
“I tell them that we just have to try to stay healthy and protect ourselves,” Santa said. “I tell them that we’re going to get through this, and, hopefully, in 2021, we can all visit like we used to.”
Most of the requests Santa gets are not a problem for him to fulfill — provided children do enough to land on the “nice” list, of course. Both Santa and Ms. Fowler say they often hear children provide proof of their good deeds before they make their requests.
“I hear things like, ‘I told the truth, I didn’t talk badly about people, I didn’t get into drama,’” Ms. Fowler said, adding that raising their hand at school and sleeping in their own beds at night are other examples children cite when providing proof they belong on the nice list.
As far as the most requested items, Santa said LOL Dolls are big this year, while anything tech related has been popular for several years running now, from Xbox gaming consoles to iPhones to wireless ear buds. Remote control trains and cars have remained popular, and Barbie dolls have also had enduring appeal. Ugg boots are frequently asked for, and Pokemon merchandise is big, too. Children also frequently ask for pets as well: dogs, hamsters, rabbits.
“That’s something I never guarantee,” Santa cautioned. “It’s a big responsibility, so I always let them know I have to check with their parents.”
There are always a few odd requests as well. Ms. Fowler said she overhead one child asking for “a cheese wedge,” while another very specifically requested $50, cash.
“The other day, one kid asked me for an invisible ball,” Santa said. “One that, if he hit somebody with it, they would disappear. That was very unique.”
A bump in demand for tech products and arts and crafts-related toys is a reflection that many children are spending more time indoors and at home this year because of the pandemic, Santa said.
Of course, Santa does his best to fulfill as many wishes as possible. And while he has different messages he has to send to children depending on what they’re asking for, he has one message that remains the same, year after year, pandemic or not.
“Never lose your faith,” Santa said. “Always keep Christmas in your heart.”