Here is a Christmas twist: Santa Claus lives in upstate New York. More specifically, a small town called Valley Stream. He spends most of the year doing the kind of festive things you’d expect—attending charity events, making appearances, and partaking in a lot of cheerful pro bono visits.
But this Santa was born Frank Pascuzzi. He changed his name in 2012, around the same time he gave up his former life as a fire sprinkler installer to commit more fully to the Christmas spirit. We caught up with him to hear about the day-to-day realities of being a festive commercial deity.
VICE: So, pre-name change you were already a working Santa, but why did you feel you needed to officially change your name?
Santa Claus: I do a lot of house visits, and the kids would see me pull up in my truck and naturally immediately think, oh he’s got to be fake Santa. I often get people asking me to “prove” that I’m actually Santa so then I show them my drivers license and my credit card which both say Santa Claus. Now they’re starting to believe me. I look to them and say, how do you prove that you are you? They say well, identification or something...so I say exactly! I don’t want people to be stuck up on me being fake.
But the Christmas season only lasts a month, once a year. It seems like a big commitment for a month.
What can I say? Christmas is just important to me. Christmas is all about love for one and another. It’s all about doing your best, treating people nicely and accepting people for who they are. The Christmas message shouldn’t be exclusive to a certain season.
Yeah but out of season and out of context it’s gotta be weird to keep this character up.
I have my Santa’s BBQ business, so I do a lot of parties and barbecues. July is a big time for me, because now Christmas in July is catching on in the States. Instead of giving gifts, this season is all about collecting gifts and giving them to the poor. Then in September, I start getting hired by photographers to do Christmas cards. So really from early September until December I’m busy every weekend as people start to prepare for the season. The weekend between Christmas and New Years I go to visit ill or challenged children, and then come January I go back to my normal job (installing fire sprinklers) and that’s the only time I really relax a little bit.
The name isn’t a bit of an inconvenience the rest of the time?
It’s actually made my life better. On a personal level it reminds me to be a nicer person. In job related things, people tend to call me or rely on me more, because they know I will tell them the truth. People always trust me now.
You mention truth, but we’re essentially talking about a fictional character. Why do you think it’s important for kids to believe in Santa?
When you have a young mind, you need to nurture that mind to believe in things that don’t necessarily exist. Years and years ago, someone fantasised about a car...and then we had one. Someone fantasised about walking on the moon...and then we did it. If we teach our children not to fantasise, maybe the next great thing may never be invented.
You’re painting a pretty nice picture, but what’s the hardest thing about being Santa Claus?
The hardest part, is also the easiest part. I often get asked to visit people who are dying; I do a lot of hospital visits and I usher people into the next phase of life. It’s very rewarding, but it’s often very, very sad.
I once met an 80 year old woman who was dying of cancer, she only had like two weeks to live. I read to her the Night Before Christmas, sang her Christmas carols, and gave her a bell that said “I love you.” I didn’t initially think anything of it, but her son sent me an email, saying I had given them the best Christmas present that they had ever received. When she passed I went to her funeral, a few weeks later my mother died and they came to her funeral. I make lifelong friends and extended families.
So do people ever give you a hard time about it?
I guess the worst reaction was from someone I really didn’t know, on Facebook. It was from another Santa Claus actually and they just said that I was a lunatic.
What does your wife make of it all?
She is very busy, and has a masters degree in sociology. She has a million things going on. When I asked her, she basically just said that I could do whatever I wanted as long as she didn’t have to change her name. She has my old last name, and so do all my kids.
She also has our medical insurance because she works for Verizon. So when I legally changed my name she had to go to see her boss and tell him, look, I’ve got to change my husband’s name on the policy. I think it was a little embarrassing for her.
On the topic of legals, was it easy to convince a judge to allow the legal name change?
I went to federal court, supreme court. I had to fill out a bunch of forms, and then sit in the back of a courtroom whilst they searched my for name and aliases—they wanted to know if I was running from the law. I was in there for about three and a half hours. Then the judge came out, and before she said the usual “all rise” she walked around the courtroom and said “Santa Claus.” She had tears in her eyes and looked at me and said, “Look around this room...you see what I have to deal with every single day. You’ve just made my year. So from now on, you are known as Santa Claus.”
Interview by Laura Woods
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This article originally appeared on VICE AU.