Santa Claus is real. And he lives on Long Island.
Frank Pascuzzi, a 55-year-old father of four, legally changed his name to Santa Claus three years ago, in part to make it easier to cash checks.
"I've been doing this for 18 years," Claus told Yahoo News in an exclusive interview this week. "People know me as Santa Claus. They write checks to me as Santa Claus. It makes it so much easier." It also gets him out of jury duty and speeding tickets.
These days, Claus is a busy man. The night before our interview, he was up until 3 a.m. shooting a video on a "very famous person's roof" to prove to the very famous person's kids he had been there.
"I don't like being fake," Claus said. "For a child, there's nothing worse than seeing Santa Claus get in a pickup truck and drive away.
"I don't want to ruin anyone's life," Claus continued. "For children growing up, Santa Claus is about fantasy, about dreams, to think about people other than themselves. In order to create things later in life, you need to fantasize in your mind when you're young. To continue that tradition. I still believe in Santa Claus."
And Claus, whose day job is in construction, is trying to turn that belief into a career. He has a side catering business (Santa's BBQ), is working on a book ("Santa's Guide to Surviving Christmas") and says he's in talks for a reality television show.
Yahoo News: When you changed your name, how did your friends and family take it?
Santa Claus: I just didn't go out on my own and change my name. I made sure everyone was OK with it, and weren't going to be embarrassed. Absolutely everybody was behind me — my parents, my children, my wife.
What is a typical day for you in December like?
I try to get as much rest as I can in the morning before I head out. Then the events usually start around 10 a.m., starting at schools and day care centers, then dinner engagements, mostly on Long Island. There can be four, five, six a day. On Christmas day I'm going to be visiting the family of a woman who has cancer.
What happens after Christmas?
I usually take a break after Christmas, but this year I have five parties booked between Christmas and New Year's, and then Little Christmas in January. Plus I work full time in construction, and there's never really a good time to take a vacation.
Growing up, did you have a fascination with Christmas?
It wasn't a fascination. My first toy was a Santa Claus doll. My mom didn't know how to celebrate Christmas very well. She sorta ruined it for a couple of years.
How did she ruin Christmas?
When you're a kid, you never throw things away. You keep them. So I kept everything in a drawer — I guess you'd call it a junk drawer. And she took everything in the drawer, put it in a box, wrapped it up and put it under the tree. And when I got it, I shook it, I was excited, it sounded like something was in there. Then I opened it up, and I said, "This stuff is mine." She said, "Well, you didn't miss it, you should clean your room." To me, that wasn't the true meaning of Christmas. I just couldn't understand how people were mean to each other.
You said you still believe in Santa Claus —
There was a year, I had split with my first wife, and I started dating my present wife. And my son wanted a toy that was impossible to get. It was Christmas Eve and me and my present wife, then she was my fiancee, were on our way to my mother's house when we saw a little toy store. And I said, "What the hell, let's try it." And we walk into this dimly lit small toy store, and this big fat guy with a white beard and flannel shirt comes out of the back and, I swear to you, he says, "You want a white Power Ranger. I have one left." I got choked up, I couldn't believe it. Three days later we're leaving and we drive by and the store was gone. The windows were frosted up. It didn't exist. Now, maybe I slipped into the twilight or something, but I swear I met Santa Claus. It was hugely motivating.
Do you think, as some in the media have suggested over the last several years, that there is a "war on Christmas"?
I don't think there is a war on Christmas per se. I think there are a lot of people out there who have a problem with Christmas coming too soon. Everyone has a right to their own holiday. Period. I think part of it is retail stores in a horrible economy — make no mistake, the economy is still horrible — are trying their best to make money. I have no problem with that. But lots of people complain. If I want to go out and sell rocks all year, no one says anything, but for some reason, Christmas rubs people the wrong way. I think it's also because the parents have gone insane and spend way too much money on their kids. That's not the spirit of Christmas.
But what about schools not allowing Christmas displays? Things like that.
When it comes to schools, most don't allow me to come. They're far too politically correct. They're scared to death that all of the other religions will complain. Too many people complain, "If it's not my holiday, I don't want to see it." You should be able to express your holiday, and I should be able to express mine.
There's been a lot of talk recently about a column where a writer suggested Santa Claus should no longer be a white man, but instead black, or Asian, or a penguin. What is your take on that? Is Santa white?
What they fail to understand about Santa Claus is ... adults overthink it. They're trying to bring reality to something that's magical, that's mythical. Santa Claus has the power to change. If you're a black family, I will appear to you as a black person. If you're Asian, I will appear to you as Asian. One single race cannot claim Santa Claus. He is what you need him to be. He's a spirit. You can't put him into a box.
It's adults who've lost the ability of wonder. People always say, "If Santa Claus were real, it would take this amount of time, the reindeer would burn up in the atmosphere."
As a kid, were you ever told by your parents that Santa Claus wasn't real?
I probably was told Santa Claus wasn't real. But I didn't believe half the things my parents told me anyway.
Did you ever have to tell your children that you aren't the real Santa Claus?
My daughter, she's 15. She grew up with me as Santa Claus. One time right before Christmas she said to me, "Dad, when are you going to get the reindeer?" I had to tell her I'm not the real Santa Claus. And if I was, we wouldn't be living in Copiague.
There are at least 15 people named Santa Claus in the U.S. Do you guys have a club?
I probably have 1,000 friends named Santa Claus on Facebook. I go to one or two conventions a year. Most of them are great people. There are a few lunatics, but we are human.
Did you ever do the mall Santa thing?
I was a Macy's Santa Claus for five years. I brought my kids one year and bleached my beard, and they hired me. They actually fired someone to hire me.