Bob Elkin has been a Santa Claus for 28 years. He is a founding member of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas. The group holds an "International Santa Celebration'' every two years. The first year, in 2014, about 20 Santas met in Tampa.
The retired Tampa investment banker and insurance agency owner entertains at daycare centers, schools, corporate parties, home visits and other events. During the holiday season each year, Santa Bob appears at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. He is one of 77 Santas in the Santa Hall of Fame.
Elkins expects to be working this season under conditions that keep people safe from the coronavirus pandemic.
“There will be no sitting on Santa’s knee, sadly,” he said.
Elkin, 79, talked with the Tampa Bay Times about life as Santa.
Your website, santatb.com, notes that you started the Santa gig in 1993 at your 3-year-old granddaughter’s daycare center. Did you have a beard then?
I had a short beard that was white, but I knew that my granddaughter would know me. So I used a fake beard that came with a cheap suit that I bought and put that fake beard over my own. And she did not recognize me.
She was pretty shy about sitting on Santa’s knee, and we see that in 2- and 3-year-olds often. But she finally warmed up and talked a little bit about what she wanted for Christmas and took her little gift that the daycare center had prepared for all of them.
You attended the International University of Santa Claus, a traveling training school. What did you learn?
I think (one) of the simple things is the Ho-Ho-Ho. Ho-Ho-Ho represents the way Santa laughs, and it’s not really a Ho-Ho-Ho. It’s more of a ho-ho-ho-ho-ho (softer laugh).
We teach newer Santas not to walk in the room with a loud, boisterous Ho-Ho-Ho and scare ... children to the far corners.
When do children start getting excited about seeing Santa?
It varies with the child, but typically (the) age — what we term “little believers” —– is 3 to 8. Three to 8 (are) those precious years when they believe in Santa.
Any memorable comments from kids over the years?
One particular thing always comes to mind. I had a little boy about 6 or 7 sitting on my knee ... and I asked him if he had one thing to pick that he’d like Santa to bring him. And he thought and thought, and you could just see him laboring.
Finally, he blurted out, "a vacuum cleaner,'' jumped down and ran off.
Now I surmise that he’d heard his mom say she wanted a vacuum cleaner … because sometimes children just freeze up. They cannot remember. Maybe they’ve been telling their mom for two weeks all that they want.
Do you have a Santa belly, or do you stuff a pillow under your coat?
I do not wear a pillow, even though I no longer have a big belly, let’s say. I was told by my primary-care physician about 6 years ago. She said, "Well, Santa, you either have to lose that Santa belly, or you are going to be a diabetic. I did not want to be a diabetic, so I lost the Santa belly.
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There is actually a group of us throughout the country, and I have kind of led that to some degree in the past. We’re trying to make the image of a healthy Santa more prominent, because we do have a problem with obesity in our children. So if we can help that in any way by helping our own image, it’s a good thing.
Are the kids fine with a thinner Santa?
I don’t think that I’ve ever had but one little boy, about 9 years old, that I had been visiting since he was 2. He made a comment about (it). … You do get questions from adults, but not that many.
But when they do, I say, "Years ago, Santa laid down his pipe. He found out how horrible smoking was. So, since that time, Mrs. Claus tries to keep Santa on a diet, because being too overweight can be unhealthy, too.''
You say you stay in character all year.
When I’m out, I usually have on a red shirt or a Hawaiian shirt with Santa in it, or something like that.
Do kids do double-takes?
Oh, gosh, yes.
Is this fun?
Children are such a delight. Each one is special, and as you become a professional Santa, you learn that that’s how you treat them.
I’m just not real certain that God intended for Santas to have so much fun.