Quick Q&A with Santa (a.k.a. Terry Hilderbrand)

Having played Santa for 37 years, Hilderbrand figures he has performed for more than 30,000 kids at venues ranging from The Children’s Museum to the mall. We had questions, along with a few gift requests.
What toys are most popular with kids these days?
For boys, trains are the No. 1 thing. Actually girls like them, too. Also Barbies, Batman action figures, bicycles, and teddy bears.

How about gaming systems?
Those are right up there in the top 10. If it’s the newest and greatest, they must have it.

How do you finesse the fact that you can’t actually give these kids the stuff they want?
My standard reply is, “We’ll see what we can do.” They need to be very good, and we’ll do our best. Sometimes, though, their parents will shoot down particular items, like pets, right on the spot.

What’s the strangest thing kids ask for?
Actually, it’s more like the saddest. They want a grandparent back who has passed on. Or they want a dad or mom who has been deployed with the military to come home. If I don’t know if the person they’re asking for is alive, I say, “I’ll do my best, but sometimes it’s just out of Santa’s hands.” Those are always rough.

Are you ever recognized when you’re out of uniform?
All the time. I usually tell the kids I’m incognito, checking up on the good boys and girls. I dress normally when I’m not in character, but some guys get wrapped up in it. They dress like Santa every day, and they’ll lose themselves. They’ll wear red caps and t-shirts that say, “I’m Santa.” If you’re Santa, you don’t need to advertise it.

Is your beard real?
Yes. I used to shave it off after Christmas, but as the years went on, it got harder to grow it back.

How many appearances do you make each holiday season?
I’ll typically have between 20 and 50 bookings. I’m booked every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Years ago, my Christmas Eve day ran from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. Christmas morning.

What’s your most unusual Santa gig?
I perform weddings as Santa Claus. I am an ordained minister.

Any tips for civilians roped into playing the jolly old elf?
If you’re using an artificial beard, use spirit gum to hold it in place, so a child can’t pull it off. Also, make sure you don’t have bad breath. And be quick-witted, so that you can come up with a fast response when, say, a child who lives in an apartment asks for a pony.

Do you have standard responses for typical questions, like how your reindeer fly?
Absolutely. I’ve gotten those questions for years. For instance, when they ask where my reindeer are, I tell them they’re at the airport in a very special, air-conditioned hangar.

So seriously, how do the reindeer fly?
By special magic and reindeer moss.