Only one man is the true Santa, and he is currently all ears for the youngsters who visit him to at the Livingston Mall. When I spoke with him there, I could tell he was the real McCoy, not only by of the purity of his white beard, his rosy cheeks, the twinkle in his eyes and his warm, robust, ho ho ho of a laugh. I knew he was the genuine Kris Kringle because when I spoke with him, I believed, without a doubt, every single word he uttered.
After we spoke, I chatted with Judy Noerr, CEO of Santa University in Colorado, which has trained Santas at malls across New Jersey. Even though Santa has magical abilities, he can’t be at all the malls at the same time. Noerr provides the stand-ins who help him out until he can get to all his pre-Christmas destinations.
Here’s my Patch Chat with the Santa at the Livingston Mall—a product of Santa University—and the lowdown on how Santa University helps the jolly gentleman out:
Patch: Are you the real Santa?
Santa: Are you the real you? If you’re the real you, then I guess I must be the real me.
Patch: Hmmm. Then I guess you’re the real Santa. Is there a Mrs. Claus?
Santa: Sure, there’s a Mrs. Claus. She’s up at the North Pole and she’s helping the elves know what the children want for Christmas this year. I tell her what they want, and she tells the elves.
Patch: What do you tell the kids if they say they have no chimney?
Santa: Well, I’ll show you. (He takes out a large key.) I have a magic key. It even has my picture on it and it lets me into any house that doesn’t have a chimney. And I can only leave things there…I can’t take anything away.
Patch: When do the elves start making toys?
Santa: We never stop but we crank it up in October when the new toys are out and we have a better idea of what the kids will be asking for.
Patch: What’s your favorite snack?
Santa: Milk and cookies, of course.
Patch: Does everyone leave a snack?
Santa: Not everyone, but those who do, it’s much appreciated.
Patch: Now, I have some more thoughtful questions. How do you feel when a little child looks at you and asks for his heart’s desires?
Santa: If the elves have only made 100 DS3D’s and 150 children request them, I would disappoint 50 kids. I tell them I will do the best I can.
Patch: Has anyone ever asked you for something that surprised or touched you? Santa: Constantly. In the last three days, three or four little boys have asked me for a vacuum cleaner and the moms just usually look at me and shrug.
Patch: Did you ask them why?
Santa: They said they like vacuum cleaners. Another boy told me he wants shovels and a lot of green plastic bags because he has a lot of holes to dig. You go figure that one out! One child that touched me was the little boy, probably in second grade, who told me, when I asked him if he was being good, that he was having some problems in school. He told me that nobody likes him. Then he asked me to be his friend. We decided that he only needed one good friend, but that he could visit me anytime he wanted as long as I am here. His mom came up and gave me a hug, and thanked me.
Patch: Have you found the kids sensitive to the downturn in the economy?
Santa: I had one child ask for an expensive toy, but he said, I know YOU are in recession, so it’s okay if I don’t get it.
Patch: What do you think Santa means to the kids?
Santa: To young children, Santa means that you are going to receive gifts, but to older children, I think it’s about the spirit of giving. We learn at a very young age the joy of giving from Santa.
Patch: One more thing. If you’re the real Santa, how come you don’t look so old?
Santa: Well, I’m almost two thousand years old. The kids keep me young.
Judy Noerr and her husband/business partner Philip Byrne are the founders of Santa University, the in-house training program at The Noerr Programs.
They know, quite well, the real Santa that Patch interviewed and appreciate the pointers he has given them for their students. They run a marketing and events company, specializing in digital event imaging which entails taking photos at malls on special occasions. They create "Santa sets" at Christmastime at malls in New Jersey and elsewhere.
Before she became involved in their present business, Noerr, CEO of The Noerr Programs, had a large dance studio which gave her some knowledge of how to stage productions. She and her husband heard that the marketing directors in some shopping centers weren’t happy with the way their Santa operations were going. The couple stepped in to make the St. Nicholas experience more enjoyable for the mall “guests.”
In 1968, they started as a small-scale business in California. Initially, Santas were provided for a few centers. A lot of effort was placed on costuming, customer services and photography. The program has expanded from three to a total of 210 locations around the country, including several in New Jersey. That’s a lot of Santas.
About five years ago, Noerr and Byrne formed Santa University to meet the growing demands of their many sites. Now the Santas-in-training come to the corporate office—the Noerr Pole, as they call it—in Arvada, Colorado to become Santa-ized.
“They come for four days and learn everything about being a Santa and get into the spirit of Santa Claus. They learn that there is a support system for them. They get fitted for costumes, learn how to hold the children, how to make the visit the most magical for them. They meet all the support staff, the camera equipment people—everyone. We hold some gatherings for them so they can meet each other. They really like that,” she said. “We want to find out what trainees really have the heart to be Santa.”
Noerr stressed how important the visit with Santa can be to some families. Some mothers “shop” for Santas. They don’t want to see any ordinary Santa. They will travel for the right one. “We love when people come back to see the same Santa. It’s a huge tradition,” she said.
Noerr Programs are interested in the spirit of giving as well as being a for-profit business. Last year, the organization collected $117,000 for Save the Children with a goal of $250,000 for this year. The company has an online program for children to earn a “badge” to show to Santa for doing a good deed.
“It means that they are learning from Santa about having a big heart,” Noerr said. The badges can be printed out by going to www.bemerrysanta.com.
Noerr Santa programs are currently in the following New Jersey locations: Burlington Center Mall, Brunswick Square, Menlo Park Mall, Newport Centre in Jersey City, Quaker Bridge Mall, Rockaway Townsquare, and the Ocean County Mall.