When Gatlinburg’s Santa Pat was young, Christmas was very different. There were many small independent Christmas shops, specialty stores, and year-round Christmas shops like his own: Santa’s Claus-et. “Our store here is partly for us because we like Christmas. Mrs. Claus and I, plus the staff that works here, enjoy it year-round. Our visitors come back year after year because they want to experience the feel, the sights, the sounds, the smell of Christmas that big box has trouble replicating and that online cannot. For us, it’s not a price point driven industry,” he says. For the last 10 years, Santa Pat has portrayed Santa at his shop and local events, including visits to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. Cityview got Santa Pat to take a brief break to talk about his experiences.
“A lot of people seem to dislike the holidays because there’s so much to do. Drop something—do something less so that you can enjoy it more.”
Tell me about your decision to be Santa.
We believe that Santa picks those that can best portray the spirit of Christmas. We have other people who mentor us such as Santa schools, Santa get-togethers…Santa just wants to make sure that we’re doing the best we can to enhance the Christmas experience.
What is like being Santa and having this store 365 days a year?
I explain to the children that Santa is here on vacation and that I like to vacation in this area because children visit from all over the world, We have a process. We like to chat and talk about what makes someone naughty or nice, and who decides that. By the way, it’s not me or your parents, it’s you!
Each year we also do a Christmas ornament for each child. I tell children to take it home, hang it up, and whenever they see, to remember that you have to be nice to get presents. I tell the older children, when you look at it imagine what it is that you want for Christmas, but also think about what you can do for someone else. And next time I visit with you, I want to know who you did something for.
Does Santa have to keep up with the latest toy trends?
Oh yes! For many years, we tried to do it by observation, but technology is now assisting. Sears used to put out a wish book, but it’s gone digital. Amazon recently released their top 20 picks or the holiday season. I’m not sure if that self-fulfilling or if those are really the ones. Everyone wants electronics, but it’s very difficult for the elves to produce that.
Do you wake up every morning in the persona?
Of course not, but the persona makes you a better person. I am far more careful about what I’m trying to project because I’m recognized all over town no matter what I’m wearing—even as volunteer in the national park. We try to set a better example, but we’re not perfect.