For the past 12 years, Santa and Mrs. Claus have made Westfield Brandon one of their special pre-Christmas destinations — greeting families, taking wishes from boys and girls from 3 to 93 (sometimes 94, as we learned) and posing for photos with the nice and the naughty. • It's undoubtedly a joy for the couple, but it also adds up to some long days. • "The kids know Santa and Mrs. Claus as the ones who give the presents out," Mrs. Claus said. "But truthfully they are the ones who give the presents to us. There is so much warmth in all of them. You can feel it in each hug. The kids are what keeps us coming back." • Just before another session, the jolly fellow and his wife sat down with Tampa Bay Times correspondent Brandon Wright to answer a few questions about why they strive to bring joy to all who come to visit.
What about this particular community has brought you back here for the past 12 years?
Santa: The people have been so kind to us and they have grown up with us. It's been special to see the same kids and families throughout the years. This community has been amazing.
Mrs. Claus: The parents have told us how much they love the consistency of seeing us year after year. And children need that consistency in their lives.
It must be cool to know you have been on 12 years' worth of Christmas cards in area homes.
Santa: There are a lot of parents who bring those cards to us to show us. Some of them have made posters with photos from their visit with us and given them to us to keep. To see the kids' development is so great. We've taken all the ones they have given us and made quite a scrapbook full at the North Pole.
What are the most requested gifts this year?
Santa: Rainbow looms. They are these rubber bands that kids can take and weave. They wear them everywhere.
Mrs. Claus: All ages love them, from the younger children to the older ones.
Santa: Then there is the Skylanders.
Mrs. Claus: And Zoomer, he's a robot dog.
Santa: And, of course, anything Lego.
I love stepping on those in the middle of the night.
Santa: Yep, we've heard that before.
You must have thousands of pounds of children who sit on your leg each day during the holiday season. Any strength training to get ready for all this?
Santa: Not really. We just try to stay healthy and keep active. Plus the reindeer and elves keep us very busy.
Mrs. Claus: We don't count pounds but we do a kid count.
Santa: Every season we have 10- to 12,000 kids who come to see us here. That's a lot of children.
The classic Christmas card has a smiling child on your lap but we both know that isn't the case all the time. What do you do when a kid isn't so thrilled to see you?
Santa: Mrs. Claus is great with the kids when that happens.
Mrs. Claus: Most of it is that they are just a little scared of Santa when they are very young. So I try to soothe them and frequently they will sit on my lap and talk to Santa. Most of the time we can calm them down.
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So you work really hard during this particular time of year. Where do you go on vacation?
Santa: We like to take a Santa cruise. We went to Panama last year.
Mrs. Claus: There were only a few children on the ship, but the adults were even more excited to see us.
Santa: We could have paid for the whole trip if we charged for pictures.
What is the strangest request you have received over the years?
Santa: One young boy asked us to remove his brother's stinky shoes. That was what I would call unusual.
Mrs. Claus: But nothing is too unusual in a child's mind.
Who is the oldest person to come sit on your lap?
Santa: There was a 94-year-old man who was a pilot in World War II in the Philippines. The only thing he wanted for Christmas was for someone to listen to his stories. He sat on my lap for about 30 minutes.
Mrs. Claus: And the youngest was 2 years old. We've had that happen twice. It'll be hard to beat those.
You eat a lot of milk and cookies.
Santa: Yes I do. Check out the size of this belt.
Chocolate milk or white milk?
Mrs. Claus: I have to put him on a diet starting Christmas Day.
The Elf on the Shelf has been getting a lot of attention the last few years. Are you jealous of the notoriety, or is he a big help?
Santa: No, they are a big help. I always ask the children their Elf's name and tell them how important they are to me.
Mrs. Claus: They report back to us every night, so we remind the children to make sure the Elf sees them being good.
Santa: And we always make sure it's within earshot of the parents.
I'm sure you get some really pretty girls who come to sit on your lap. Does Mrs. Claus ever get jealous?
Mrs. Claus: Never.
Santa: She has nothing to worry about at all. I'm all hers.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.