SANTA Speaks!

December 1, 2011 | By More

Christmas is known as a time of wonder and magic, so imagine yourself as a “real” Santa Claus.

You’d be slightly portly, have a long white beard, wear old fashioned spectacles and love the color red.

In temperament, you’d be kind, generous and wise. You would love all children, be good with animals (especially reindeers, puppies and kittens) be fast and extremely agile (to fit down the chimney), a good manager (of elves), very well organized and willing to work for cookies.

Alan Tucker of Russellville is such a man. A social services worker for Arkansas Work Force Services by day and a natural care-giver by nature, Tucker has devoted the past eight years to becoming a year-round Santa Claus.

“You could say I’ve earned a Masters degree in Santa Claus and am working on my Doctorate from the International University of Santa Claus,” said Tucker, with a twinkle in his eye as he showed off his class ring with the initials ‘SC’ on the giant red-center stone. He also has a custom-made Santa suit to complete his persona.

Despite his Santa-fied education, Tucker said you can’t just go to school to become Santa. There is a saying among us that says, “You are either a Santa or you’re not.”

Tucker is part of an organization of professional Santas with real beards who attends regular classes on Santa craft. We have classes like the ethics and history of Santa, proper techniques for talking with each age group, how to properly pick-up and hold a child (both hands must always be visible), special handling for people with handicaps, sign-language, even a class on proper care of beards, said Tucker who has a meticulously maintained long white beard.

To stay in character, Tucker usually wears red shirts to work and has a red car with the license plate “S Claus (??),” which he decorates with reindeer antlers during the holidays. “What makes me different from other Santa’s is that I stay Santa Claus all year,” said Tucker who drives Prancer, his red motorcycle, in warmer weather.

Sometimes it’s almost dangerous driving on the Interstate, because a lot of cars pull up close and wave, said Tucker with a jolly chuckle.

Tuckers wife, Judy, makes a perfect Mrs. Claus and often accompanies him on his rounds. “Some younger children are afraid of Santa and would rather go to Mrs. Claus than Santa. She loves it when that happens,” said Tucker.

While most of Santa Alan’s time is spent with children, some of his most special moments are spent with the elderly in nursing homes.

“Some of these folk really perk up when they see Santa. It’s as though they become children again and many even want to sit on Santa’s lap as they did as a child. You can just see the sparkle come into their eyes and even those who can no longer speak, their smile will come through.”

Being Santa is a wonderful experience, but physically there are a few down sides, Tucker admitted. A common problem for a professional Santa is knee problems from having so many people sit on your lap because the knee supports the leg.

A real beard can also be a problem. “Some of those seniors can pull really hard on my beard. The biggest problem with infants and really young children is that little fingers can get caught in my beard. And toddlers can squirm around so much you have to hold on to them for dear life so they don’t fall off my lap,” said Tucker.

Other problems are sanitary in nature. Sometimes a baby’s diaper leaks or need changing, so Santa Alan has a special red pad I keep on his lap for situations like that.

“The important thing is to keep it fun for the kids, so I like to joke around with them a bit to make them comfortable. For instance I’ll ask them if they want a bucket of mud, or underwear, and that gets them laughing.

It’s also important to make a visit with Santa a happy occasion for the parents, said Tucker. “Sometimes it’s as much about the parents as the children because parents often want to vicariously remember their own childhood experience with Santa.” These moments become an important part of a family’s history, so we want to make it memorable, said Tucker. Besides appearing in the Russellville Christmas Parade and other public and private appearances, Santa Alan will be at the Russellville Mall during the holiday season where families are encouraged to bring their own cameras and take all the pictures they want. There will also be a photographer for those who want professional photos,” said Tucker.

While being Santa certainly has its rewards, one thing about the job most people don’t understand is that Santa sometimes gets requests for things other than toys, said Tucker.

“We hear requests for things that no one can fill; family issues like bringing Mommy and Daddy back together, or making someone healthy again. At Christmas parties for families of veterans overseas, I’ve heard heartfelt requests to bring Daddy or Mommy home, things like that. Being Santa is very rewarding but it can also pull at your heartstrings,” said Tucker, with a momentary look of sadness in his kind eyes.

Happy or sad, Tucker said the year’s most special appearance for Mr. and Mrs. Claus is Christmas Day at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock where they spend the entire day visiting each child one by one. Each child gets an appropriately filled stocking and a photo of the visit. Even the children in intensive care or isolation get a photo of Santa standing outside their door.

Tucker said that one year he had a photo taken with preemie triplets so small they all fit cradled in one arm.

“It’s a long day but we look forward to it all year,” said Tucker. As do children of all ages. Merry Christmas!

Santa facts

Did you know the Santa Claus we all know and love is uniquely American? The American Santa is commonly known as the “Coca-Cola Santa Claus” because of the company’s advertising that showed him with a long white beard in a red suit, said Alan Tucker, aka Santa Alan.

Santa has always been a blending of holiday traditions, said Tucker. Santa as we know him in the U.S., is not always the gift giver and December 25 is not the day all countries celebrate the holiday, he added.

In Europe, Santa is called Saint Nicholas or Father Christmas and is usually shown as tall and thin wearing earth tones and green. In Eastern Europe, Saint Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th when children put a boot or shoe by the window to receive gifts.

In some countries, Santa is female, and usually depicted as a witch. In Italy “La Befana” is a good witch dressed in black who comes down the chimney with her broomstick to leave gifts in the children’s shoes on January 6th.

For the Hispanic population, Santa is not in their holiday tradition and children wait until January 6th to get gifts brought by the three Wise Men or Three Kings. They also celebrate the season with Las Posadas where families play out the parts of Mary and Joseph searching for somewhere to stay and have a procession to friends and neighbor’s homes.

The Dutch “Sintirklaas” arrives by boat on December 5th. Children leave a wooden shoe filled with hay and carrots for the donkey which carries St. Nicholas’ pack of toys.

In Germany, the “Christkind” or Christ Child brings presents to each home while the family is attending church services on Christmas Eve.

“Pere Noel” brings gifts to French children on Christmas Eve.

In Sweden, a gnome called “Juletomten” brings gifts delivered in a sleigh driven by goats.

An Angel known as “Christkindl” delivers gifts to children in Switzerland.

Australian children look forward to a visit by a bearded Santa on water-skis who wears a red bathing suit.

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