DENNIS – At the recent Shelter Cape Cod Telethon, which raises money for homeless people, sitting in the front row on one of the 16 red phones was none other than Santa Claus.
At first I wasn’t sure it was Him. After all, he wasn’t wearing a red suit. Instead he looked dapper in a gold embroidered vest. His hat, rather than the traditional red stocking cap with white pompom at the end was a more delicate affair: a sort of colorful Turkish turban with a bejeweled band.
Also, he wasn’t as—how should I put this without being rude—“chubby” as Santa usually is.
I observed him walking around the telethon’s buffet area and I still wasn’t sure if it was actually Him. But then a young woman handed him her two-year-old and he looked at the little boy with a knowing look and a twinkle in his eye, and the little boy looked at the old bearded man, with a mix of wonder and anticipation—and I knew. It was definitely Him.
So I approached and asked could I do a brief interview, since he appeared to be Him. (Frankly, I still wasn’t 100 percent sure of it.)
He said, “Of course,” in that way that people do who are used to being interviewed, so that is when I felt certain that it was Him.
I decided to broach the matter of the outfit, because, after all, Santa is typically in a red suit. But this was the Cape Cod Santa so maybe different rules apply.
He scoffed at my ignorance. “Of course I have a red suit. What kind of a Santa would I be without a red suit?” said Santa.
Pointing to his outfit, he said, “This is what I refer to as ‘casual Santa.’”
He patiently explained that Santa has a variety of different occasions he must attend and so it is necessary to have different outfits for less formal occasions.
Odd that it never occurred to me.
Cape Cod Santa has short sleeved and long sleeved suits. He has four different Santa hats. He has a total of two-and-a-half Santa suits.
The half is an extra pair of Santa pants.
Now I started to get curious. Where do you get the Santa suits?
“Well, it’s not something you can go into Kmart and buy. You get it over the Internet. There are websites that cater to Santas,” he said.
Since I had broken the ice with the outfit question, I ventured into the matter of the belly—or lack thereof.
He had a quick answer for that one too—perhaps too quick.
Mrs. Claus has put him on a diet because of the thinking nowadays about nutrition.
Santa has to worry about cholesterol? Okay, I guess so.
Then I noticed his blue eyes. They were actually twinkly.
I pointed that out to him. He denied knowing that his eyes were twinkly.
But his daughter, a middle school student who was listening to the interview, interjected with the kind of irritation that can only come from a teenager, “I’ve told you that you have twinkly eyes,” she said to her dad, Santa.
So I wasn’t the only one who had noticed.
Ah, yes, the matter of his daughter. Turns out it is no picnic being Santa’s daughter. Kids in school tease her about it. No fun at all.
But then someone else joined in the conversation and pointed out that the other kids are probably jealous of her, being Santa’s daughter and all. She did not look convinced, and we left the matter there.
Back to the day to day business of being Santa. Apparently, there are ups and downs.
A recent up was taking part on Nantucket’s Christmas Stroll, which included a trip across Nantucket Harbor on a Coast Guard cutter for the arrival into at Straight Wharf to be greeted by 5,000 to 10,000 Nantucket residents and visitors waiting for the man of the hour.
“Talk about a rush and being overwhelmed,” Santa said.
He then rode down Main Street in an authentic whaling dory pulled by an antique car to the Jared Coffin House to serve as the backdrop for hundreds of photo ops.
It was his largest crowd ever.
He got the job after meeting the honorary mayor of Nantucket a couple years ago. He got a call over the summer: “Santa, are you available?”
“Actually, I wasn’t but I found another Santa to take my place,” he said of how he managed to clear his schedule to take the Nantucket gig.
Santa’s Ups & Downs
Another recent up was being voted one of the 11 best Santas in the United States by Time Magazine. That was huge.
As for downs, there have been gigs when he had to sit for three hours without a bathroom break. “I am a human being. I do need to go to the bathroom,” Santa said.
He doesn’t do long stints at a mall.
“I’m not that kind of Santa,” he said. “I like to walk around.”
I pointed out the fact that his beard is so authentic, you wouldn’t even consider yanking on it.
He nodded appreciatively and mentioned his membership in the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas.
Any other groups he belongs to? He named four more: Society of Santas, New England Santa Society, the International Order of Santas, and Santa America.
Why does Santa need to be in organizations such as those?
One word. “Networking,” he said.
It was through one of those organizations that he ended up being invited to play Santa in Japan. He didn’t end up going, but it was nice to be asked.
So, let’s keep an inventory. Twinkly eyes. Check. Real beard. Check.
But how about the laugh? The Cape Cod Santa threw his head back and issued an unrestrained chorus of ho, ho, hos. Very jolly.
As for what brought him to the Shelter Cape Cod Telethon, turns out he has helped out with other fundraisers put on by Housing Assistance Corporation, a Hyannis nonprofit that runs homeless shelters as well as helps people with a variety of housing issues from foreclosure prevention counseling to helping people find affordable apartments.
The first year Santa came to the telethon, his role was what is known as a “walk on” and he was interviewed by host Mindy Todd of WCAI.
Last year, he was, as he put it, “demoted” to working the phones. But he didn’t seem to mind so much.
At this year’s event, which took place December 11 at the Cape Cod Community Media Center in Dennisport, Telethon co-host Sean Corcoran of WCAI did a brief on-air interview with Santa about why he volunteers to work the phones during the telethon. “It’s my way of giving back to the community,” Santa said.
You wouldn’t think Santa would need to “give back.” I mean, he is really all about giving. But it just goes to show, you can always give more.
Some things I learned about Santa that were unexpected: He is a single dad. He lives in Hyannis. He is a Navy veteran.
Another thing I learned: Santa’s year on Cape Cod starts on St. Patrick’s Day when he rides in the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dennis.
His next big gig is the fourth of July. If you’ve ever been to the Hyannis July 4 Parade, you know Santa makes what I’ve always felt is a rather incongruous appearance at that event.
Over the course of the year, the Cape Cod Santa does a lot of volunteering for Red Cross and hospice, as well as at pediatric hospitals.
Some of Santa’s appearances are paid and some are volunteer.
“As it should be,” Santa said.
By December 23, he wraps up for the year.
Though it goes without saying, that “wrap up” is for public appearances. There is still the little matter of visiting all the children of the world on December 24.
The Cape Cod Santa, who also goes by the name Scott Calkin and is 66, started playing Santa four years ago when he was retiring from the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority. Santa drove a bus. Well, that I can imagine. Sled, bus. Either way, he is at the helm.
As a young man, he once played the role of Santa and he decided he might be able to make a second career of it after retirement.
“I decided I wanted to become a professional Santa Claus. Through a series of unbelievable events, I’ve done everything I set out to do,” he said.
When he went professional, he began to grow the beard.
He declined to opine on the subject of fake beards on Santas, though when pressed, he said, “to me being a professional Santa is having a real beard.”
How did he end up on Cape Cod?
“Santa went through a midlife crisis,” he said. Sounding like many other washashores, Santa said he came to Cape Cod on vacation and thought to himself, he would like to live here some day.
What’s the best part of being Santa?
And here is when I knew I had the real guy.
“Listening to the children. The children tell you exactly what it is,” Santa said.
– Laura M. Reckford