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The life and times of Santa Paul

by Mike Gruss

The Virginian-Pilot
December 24, 2007

The person you are trying to reach...


"Paul Sheehan," the voice says. Another pause.

Is not available. To leave a message press 1.

And this is how I got in touch with Santa Claus. I left a voicemail for him at work. Being the pesky reporter that I am, I sent an e-mail to his home account as well.

I called Santa Paul, as he likes to be known, to see how things have changed. He's been Santa for nearly three decades now, and I wanted to know if the cookies were trans-fat-free, if the milk was made from soy, if the reindeer need to be kept without harnesses to ensure they were happy, if he had to check his toy list for poisons from China, if he ever had trouble hooking up a Wii, if he was required to work a little bit faster this year because we're in an economy that favors those who are more efficient and, finally, if he had to give up his Christmas bonus, because, well, times are tight and profit margins aren't what they used to be.

But when Santa calls back and you're actually chatting with the man who puts together the naughty-and-nice list, it's tough to ask the smart aleck questions.

Santa told me, without a lot of ho-ho-ho, that the biggest difference between the children of today and the children of 25 years ago is, quite simply, there are a lot more requests for electronic toys. All the important stuff is unchanged.

"The need is still there for simple love, acceptance. Children are very much the same."

The first rule of being Santa is that it's for the children. Rule No. 2 is to see Rule No. 1.

Santa Paul, who has lived in Virginia Beach since 1993, became Santa Paul 28 years ago. He has worked as a mall Santa in rural New Hampshire. His beard is officially registered. He weighs 320 pounds. He owns blue contacts if ever there is a need. He dons a touch of red and green nearly every day. When a co-worker once asked why he does it, he replied, Why wouldn't he do it?

In the course of our chat, it became clear: After nearly 30 years, the children are not the ones who have changed. Santa has.

Santa Paul, 47, does not go to the bar. Once a theater actor, he can no longer play the villainous Bill Sykes from "Oliver." Instead, he has a "Got Toys" and North Pole sticker attached to the back of his car. His plates read, "S CLAUS."

Even on a rare day when he's in all black, a dozen children could recognize him as Santa.

Santa Paul has learned something many famous people have not: He is a public figure with an unbelievably high level of accountability.

But a funny thing has happened along the way. Every season, Santa Paul becomes more and more like Santa.

Not in a weird, unstable, identity crisis kind of way, but more as if he is working toward a goal of whom he wants to become.

"We can't think back before we were Mr. and Mrs. Claus," he told me. He doesn't remember how he and Mrs. Claus (his wife, Carolyn) spent December afternoons.

Becoming Santa began a "migration toward a better me."

Now Santa receives wish lists in April and requests to visit sick children in the blistering heat of summer. Over his lifetime, hundreds of thousands of children have sat on his lap.

Santa Paul tells the story of a little boy who was 4, he could have been 44, and was as glum as a child could be. In a heartwarming way, the child only asked Santa to see his father for Christmas.

So Kris Kringle turns to a standard line for when Santa is asked the impossible.

"If nothing else, Santa can always pray."

And then, "Santa will do what Santa can do."

The boy walked away happy.

But it's not just children.

There are adults who sit on his lap who just want a Porsche. Or the sailors who wants to go home for a couple of days. Or to have their bride come visit for a couple of days.

And Santa is again faced with the impossible situation. So Santa gives them the same advice he prescribes to himself, the very magic that appeals to the child in all of us:

"If you keep being good, everything will work out."

It's something for all of us to believe in.

Mike Gruss, (757) 446-2277,

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Nov/Dec 2007 Hampton Roads Magazine

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Press Releases:

Professional Real Bearded Santa Claus Reports on Recent Santa-America 2006 Training Conference

NewswireToday - /newswire/ - Virginia Beach, VA United States, 07/13/2006 - Santa Paul Sheehan (a professional real bearded Santa Claus) and his wife Carolyn (Mrs. Claus), both of Virginia Beach, Virginia, have just returned from attending specialized training at the Santa-America 2006 Training Conference, in Branson, MO.

It may be July and hot and sticky, but Santa Claus is not on vacation. Santa Paul Sheehan (a professional real bearded Santa Claus) and his wife Carolyn (Mrs. Claus), both of Virginia Beach, Virginia, have just returned from attending specialized training at the Santa-America 2006 Training Conference in Branson, Missouri.

Santa Paul, whose beard is listed #1576 in the
National Beard Registry, is a member of Santa-America, a nationwide non-profit (501c3) national service organization bringing Love, Hope, and Joy to very special children and their families 365 days a year!

- Children, parents, or grandparents in Hospice
- Children suffering from Chronic Pediatric Illness
- Children and families suffering from Post Traumatic Stress

Both Santa Paul and Carolyn received specialized training in visiting special needs children and families. While in Branson Missouri, Santa Paul, who is also an active member of the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas (
AORBS), and Carolyn, also participated in the largest international gathering of natural bearded Santas in history, the “Discover Santa” Convention, which was organized by the AORBS.

Santa Paul is also a 30 plus year theater professional who has performed on stage, screen, and radio all over the world.

Santa Paul and his wife Carolyn Sheehan are looking forward to volunteering at local hospices and hospitals in addition to their current charity work and also operate providing professional Santa visits throughout all of Hampton Roads!