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'It Was Madness'

David Sennett


David Sennett, an actor, first played Santa 21 years ago at a Washington, D.C., mall. He declines to give his exact age (an actor shouldn't let himself be pigeonholed, he says) but admits to being in his 40s. He can be found in Santa's chair after the Saturday matinee of "A Wonderful Life" through Dec. 23 at Theatre Virginia. I … was a Macy's Santa for eight years. It's not a real exciting story. I saw the ad, showed up with my pictures and said, "I'm Santa!" There was no real audition process, but we had three days of training where we received make-up and costume instruction and learned how to say "Merry Christmas" and "Have you been good this year?" in 26 different languages. It's very important for Santa to communicate with all children. Even in Swahili. At Macy's, Santa has a village in Herald Square with his own house. Imagine an acre of the store in midtown Manhattan sitting dormant for 11 months so it can be transformed into Santa's village for one month of the year. It's magical! The village has a support staff of about 260 people that includes Broadway stage and costume designers. Some take off a month of work each year just to create this fantasyland. "Ho ho ho" is a no, no, no. It's not a natural sound, plus little children are terrified by it. Santa never says no, but never makes any promises. Have a flu shot and lots of cold medicine on hand. Remember, no one gets too big for Christmas. Not even teen-agers. … You know, the thing about Santa is that he allows for fantasies to exist. Really hopeful, positive fantasies. It's my job as Santa not to dispel the fantasy. There were some really sad moments like once when this little boy told me all he wanted for Christmas was "for daddy to stop hitting me." His father was right there and he was able to hear that. Maybe that was all that was needed to make an impact. I had an elderly woman come in whose husband was dying. She was about 82 years old. She said, "I know this is really ridiculous, but I don't know what to do." She understood everything doctors and family members had told her. She knew her husband was going to die, but in her heart she still held on to this hope. When she came in, I shut down Santa's house and spent about 45 minutes talking with her. You don't have too many moments like that. [One time,] 3M had Scotch Tape's 60th anniversary party at the World Trade Center in July. They had this idea for a package-wrapping contest and needed Santa to be a guest judge. Guess who got the job? … 3M flew in package-wrappers from Bloomingdale's, Neiman Marcus, everywhere. It was a huge event. The New York Times covered it, and, in fact, their features writer couldn't be there so they sent this investigative reporter who spent the whole time trying to find out my real identity. It was madness. … 3M had arranged for a car to pick me up after the event. The car never arrives. Well, here I am in the middle of July in this wool Santa suit. There's no way I'm taking the subway home. One of the coordinators hails a cab for me in front of the World Trade Center, pays the cabbie, and I'm on my way. My cab driver was Israeli and he was playing Israeli music. We manage to hit every red light in New York City. The reactions I got were unbelievable, but the fact that I'm in this Santa suit in July heat with Israeli music bellowing through the cab struck me as quite hilarious. I decided to have fun with it. We were a few blocks from where I lived and I [saw] these kids who for some reason appeared like they should be in summer school, but weren't. I asked the cab driver to drop me off near these kids. They just stared when I got out of the cab. They were indeed supposed to be in summer school. So I walked them back to school singing Christmas carols along the way, right until we reached their classroom. The teacher's jaw dropped and I told her they were in the North Pole helping Santa. That was probably my favorite job. To be Santa you have to be in love with Santa yourself. You have to want people to have a sense of joy, fantasy and hope. You know people want to believe in Santa, in the magic of it. Especially adults who get so caught up in work and are not in touch with imagination. You have to give people moments of imaginative fancy. It's important. It's impacted my life enormously. For four weeks in my life I get to be the guy everyone loves. I get to be that

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