As we talk, I learn the popular toys this year are Legos and LOL Surprise! Collectable dolls. One girl asked for help for her mother. In the past, some kids have asked for their dad to get a job. This year, one kid asked for a donkey.
When kids ask for puppies or other animals, Santa tells them he can’t bring animals on the sleigh. They are afraid of heights and can make a mess during the trip.
Every year, Tri-Cities Kiwanis brings Santa and Mrs. Claus to town. It’s a tradition that Mrs. Claus helped start about 30 years ago. Santa remembers visiting with kids in Steketee’s when it was open, and 15 years ago they started the house.
I sip on hot chocolate and talk with Sandy Huber of the Tri-Cities Kiwanis Santa Committee. She tells me that Kiwanis is an organization that’s dedicated to helping kids, and it’s made up of volunteers from the Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg areas.
In collaboration with the city, a long list of area businesses help sponsor Santa’s House. Great Lakes Greek Chili Dogs even provides gift cards for a free chili dog meal with purchase for all the kids who visit Santa. There’s no charge to see Santa, but donations are accepted for photos.
Huber says she does this for the kids. “This is my Christmas,” she says. People come to Grand Haven from all over West Michigan just to see Santa.”
By the end of the day, Santa has 199 visitors, which includes kids and adults, plus two dogs.
Sometimes, adults come to see him sans the kids. Some moms drag along their 17-year-old kids because they’re continuing their “photo with Santa tradition.” The teenagers play along — they don’t want to get on the naughty list.
Santa saw 800 kids last year. Huber says, “Santa will stay until 10 p.m. — it depends on the line. Santa will see all the children in line.” Dec. 22 was the big day this year.
Some kids can be a little nervous around Santa. He giggles, “Do you know what that’s called? Claus-tasphobic.” He says that dogs are welcome to visit, but sometimes they have a “ruff” time.
Santa is concerned about the environment. It’s been tough for the reindeer with global warming because they’re used to a cooler climate. He’s trying to use more wind energy as well as reduce his carbon footprint by using less plastic.
They make a great team. At home on the North Pole, Mrs. Claus does the plumbing and the electrical and fixes the sleigh. She takes out the garbage. They even have a greenhouse.
Mrs. Claus explains, “Santa does household chores like laundry and dishes. He focuses on designing toys, reading letters from kids and, of course, eating.”
Santa says, “This lets me be creative.” Then he turns to Mrs. Claus and says lovingly, “I appreciate all you do.”
Constantly innovating, Santa is incorporating automation into his process but tries to make as many toys as possible by hand. He said all the elves go to school to learn toy-making. He jokes, “When they are done with school, then they do their gnomework.”
How can Santa deliver all those presents around the world in one night? He winks and says he has a special way of stopping time while he does it.
Here are a couple of helpful tips for Christmas Eve: Santa’s favorite cookie is gingerbread, but he loves all kinds of cookies — sugar, chocolate chip, peanut butter — you name it! Mrs. Claus warns, “If kids try to stay up, he won’t come to that house.”
Before I leave, Halley and Fisher Veeneman put in their requests while their mom, Jennifer, snaps photos. Halley asks for an American Girl doll and guitar. Fisher asks for a RC car and Lego roller coaster.
Santa asks, “Are you going to leave my Christmas cookies? The kids say, “Yes!”
Santa thanks them for coming and wishes them a Merry Christmas. He gives the kids candy canes made by the elves.
Santa’s House was open until Dec. 22.
— By Carrie Brown, Tribune community columnist