While he keeps track of his ‘naughty’ and ‘nice’ list on an iPad nowadays, the man in red is busier than ever and has to divide his time between the Christmas Market on Eyre Square and his headquarters at the North Pole to get everything done.
It might seem strange that Santa Claus can sit down for a coffee in Hotel Meyrick without being mobbed by excited children and adults, but Father Christmas has adopted a toned-down outfit for our meeting – a rather dapper pinstripe suit. A red tie, reindeer cuff links and a big, bushy, snow-white beard are the only things that give any clue as to his real identity.
Santa says it’s nice to just sit down and watch the world go by and, although his elves maintain his naughty/nice computer database, ‘Naughtel’, these days, he still likes to keep an eye on things himself. “I don’t trust computers,” he says. “I have to make sure the system is working well”.
There is, of course, another, more practical reason for his attire – after a busy day greeting children at Santa’s Grotto in the Galway Continental Christmas Market, the old red suit has collected its fair share of recycled baby food and half-digested Mighty-Macs and has been taken away to be dry-cleaned. The fluffy white trim is especially hard to keep clean, apparently.
“I don’t mind a little bit of soilage! The day a little boy or girl doesn’t feel a butterfly or two in their tummy when they meet Santa Claus, I’ll have to retire,” he jokes, laughing so heartily that a bright gold button pops off his rather tight-fitting designer suit. Every dinner’s a Christmas dinner when you’re Santa Claus, it seems.
So how does he manage the commute between Galway and the North Pole every evening? The hardest part is getting out of the city, he explains.
“The new signalised junctions are alright, I suppose, but it’s not like I can bring the sleigh right into Eyre Square! I prefer to use the Park and Ride – I just take the bus in the morning and back out in the evening. They weren’t sure what to charge me at the start, but we eventually agreed that a sleigh shouldn’t pay more than a car, so it’s only €2! Then, from Ballybrit to the North Pole is only a half an hour or so – those reindeers can move when they want to,” explains Santa.
With more and more children around the world to bring gifts to every year, Santa admits that it is a strain to get toys to everyone, but no matter what, he still makes it, even to children who are staying away from home or in hospital. “The ‘Santa-nav’ is all I need”, he says, pointing to his head and smiling.
Luckily, says Santa, children are being very good and not being too greedy when they write their lists this year. All the little boys and girls know that Santa and his Elves are working very, very hard to bring them some nice gifts on Christmas morning and they’re not asking for presents that are too big or too expensive.
“A tablet computer might be very skinny, but the parts are expensive and it takes an elf weeks to build one,” he explains. In fact, many of Santa’s elves have had to undertake distance learning courses in NUI Galway and GMIT so they can keep up to date with modern toys. “They kept on harping on about the knowledge economy, so I got them some training,” he says. “But they still have to be able to build a rocking horse – that’s the standard.”
Even though he may conference call with the elves over Skype and his head elf has a B Eng, Santa says Christmas hasn’t really changed that much over the years.
“Computers can do lots of things, but they can’t bring a sleigh full of toys around hundreds of millions of homes, or squeeze a, shall we say, generously proportioned old man down a chimney. There isn’t an app for that; not yet anyway!”
Santa’s final message to Galway’s boys and girls is a simple one, “Be good boys and girls and don’t wait up for me, because I can’t come and leave your toys under the tree until you’re all tucked up in bed,” he says.
“That’s what keeps it fun for me: the magic of bringing all that joy around the world in one night and knowing how happy all the boys and girls will be on Christmas morning,” he beams as he departs to catch the bus. “That and the milk and cookies!”
Santa’s Grotto at the Galway Continental Christmas Market will be open from 4pm-7pm on Friday, 21 December and 10am-7pm on Saturday, 22 December.