I know that I promised all of you to share my interview with the real Santa Claus, the one I did after Christmas at Santa’s island hideaway in Boca Chica. I’ve been so busy getting THE NEW ESCAPE TO PANAMA finished and published that I haven’t had time to write-up my exclusive interview with Santa. Sorry, but since I promised . . . here it is!
I met Santa Claus, the real McCoy, a few years ago when he was sipping a Balboa beer at what was then called Wahoo Willies in Boca Chica. I probably wouldn’t have known who he really was, except that as we sipped beer we talked about getting older, needing to lose some of the paunch, and retiring to Panama. Eventually, as his story came out, he swore me to secrecy, a promise I have kept because you don’t mess with God, Mother Nature or Santa Claus.
What many folks don’t realize is that Panama has islands off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Some are owned by people who just want to escape completely, some of whom have celebrity status, like Mic Jaggar. So for about 10 years the real Santa Claus has been living 8 months of the year on his own private island, all I can say is “somewhere in the Bay of Chiriqui” off of Boca Chica. Since he is now in his mid-70’s, I finally managed to convince him to give me a no-holds-barred exclusive interview.
DETRICH: “OK, Santa, let’s set the record straight. There really is a Santa Claus, right, and you are he? So, is Santa like God: do you live forever? If not, why you? How did you become Santa?”
CLAUS: ‘Yeah, it’s me all right. And I DO exist. And I’m not immortal. And yes I have the same old age pains that you do. Santa Claus is our family business. My birth name is Christopher Kingle, and that was my father’s name, and it’s the name of my oldest son. We’re a little like the British Royal Family. My wife calls me Chris, but to the rest of the world I am Santa Claus. Chris, Jr., my oldest son, will inherit the title, the role, and the business when I die. We are a family owned, multi-national conglomerate, officially Santa Claus, S.A., and I am the Chairman of the Board and my son, Chris, is the President. We do business all over the world but primarily in countries which religiously have some tie to Christmas and the birth of Christ, although increasingly it doesn’t matter what religious background a country has, almost every developed country does business with Santa Claus.”
“So like the Queen is Elizabeth II, I’d be Santa Claus with some number behind my name. But we’ve found that it’s best for the business to let folks assume that Santa goes on forever. So we lead a low-profile private life and when my father, or grandfather died, or when I die, nobody really knows but the immediate family, and the oldest son takes over the role.”
DETRICH: “So we’re talking about a gigantic business here? What kind of revenue are we talking about? Do you pay taxes?”
CLAUS: “Santa Claus, SA is a private corporation so we don’t release any financial information. Part of why we’re in Panama! And we don’t pay taxes . . . anywhere. Don’t ask me how. Just accept that being Santa Claus offers certain advantages. End of story. Actually because there was no such thing as licensing when this business started, people don’t pay to use my image or name, so, we really don’t make that much money. We make a living, but a lot of it is a labor of love.”
DETRICH: “So how’d it all begin?”
CLAUS: “Look it up on Wikipedia! It’s more or less the same story. Or call my daughter, Virginia – yes, just like the 1987 editorial in the New York SUN! – who is the Vice President of Marketing and she’ll give you our official version. Basically my great-something grandfather, following the tradition of Saint Nicholas and the Dutch Sinterklaus thought it would be fun to leave some anonymous gifts for the neighbor’s kids. He began doing this year after year, eventually finding it was easier to cart the gifts in his sleigh rather than on horseback and one thing led to another and by the end of the 18th Century the tradition was evolving.”
DETRICH: “So there were no reindeer?”
CLAUS: “Initially no, but through the years the tradition grew and grew.”
DETRICH: “So,no sleigh and reindeer now?”
CLAUS: “We DO have several sleighs and teams of reindeer that make appearances throughout the world, Kind of like the Budweiser Clydesdales. And every team of reindeer has the same, traditional names . . .”
CLAUS: “You bet! And it’s a lot easier to bring off Rudoplh’s traditional appearance now with fibere optic lights.”
DETRICH: “High tech Santa, huh?”
CLAUS: “You bet. We could never keep this going without technology! My youngest son, Sam, is the CIO of our company. We have all of the latest technology. It’s the only way we could keep track of all the boys and girls, production, and delivery. Out on the island I can log in and follow every aspect of our business.”
“My other son handles production which is now outsourced around the world. And my daughter Noelle is in charge of logistics. It’s quite a task getting all those gifts delivered every year and we couldn’t do it without our corporate partners Fed Ex and UPS.”
DETRICH: “Without the sleigh and reindeer, how do you get around?”
CLAUS: “We have a Gulfstream G150 that’s a lot more comfortable than a sleigh! It’s usually at Albrook in Panama City.”
DETRICH: “No more going down the chimney?”
CLAUS: Opening another Balboa and munching on Cheetos, “Come on Richard, do I LOOK like I could fit down a chimney?”
DETRICH: “So what about the North Pole? The tradition is that you live at the North Pole, not in the Bay of Chiriqui.”
CLAUS: “Have you ever BEEN to the North Pole? Hell of a place! Snow. Ice. Miserable place. But we have an office there, more for show than anything else. I have some little people friends who play the role of my elves and happen to like snowmobiling, so they keep it going. I make a few promotional appearances when we bring in some press folks the first part of December. And a week or two at the North Pole gives me more than enough snow and cold weather! Why do you think I live in Panama?”
We chatted a bit about some of the Alaskans who’ve come down to Panama to retire. Turns out he knows “Soup”, Collin Campbell, an expat from the real North Pole, Alaska [outside of Fairbanks] who’s left behind the snow and ice to move to Volcan. Soup was on one of the Panama Relocation Tours. I had lunch with him last week in Boquete and he’s having the time of his life in Panama.
Santa showed me a picture of his jet and, I must admit, it beats a sleigh . . . or flying coach.
Sometimes I see Santa’s boat fishing around Boca Chica. It’s called JOSN [“Jolly Old Saint Nick”].