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Q&A: Santa Claus Crunch time is here for North Pole's main man

When Santa Claus isn't driving a sleigh or hanging out in the Summit mall, he drives a truck -- for Irish Propane in Buffalo.

He's also a big Buffalo Bills fan.

Santa, aka Todd R. Habschied of North Tonawanda, has been fitting in his job of ho-ho-hoing it up for the kiddies after work as a truck driver. The self-described "swinging bachelor" said he wants to make sure that when kids come to visit him in the former Summit Park Mall, they leave believing they've spoken with the best Santa ever.

Habschied is pretty busy these days but recently took a break and answered some questions for The Buffalo News.

Is this job on your resume?

Technically no, but I let whoever interviews me know. My boss right now, he's very good about it.

Do you have kids of your own?

I don't have kids, but I dress up for my nieces, my nephews, my family, whatever. I have my own suit.

How long have you been doing this?

This will be my 23rd year.

What made you want to get into this business?

Back in 1983, there was an ad in the paper. I was going to do it and try it for my nephew and niece, and out of 98 applicants, I was hired. That was for Eastern Hills Mall.

How often does a child challenge your existence? How inquisitive are kids?

I would say most of the time. It's not as easy as most people think. They're very inquisitive.

What's the toughest question from a kid that you've ever had to answer? I've always wondered how you could make it into every single house in the world in 24 hours.

That's easy. I got magic dust. Kids who say, "We don't have a chimney at our house," I always say I have magic keys, and I also have magic dust so I can get down the chimneys.

Has a kid ever figured out that you're not the real Santa Claus? How do you react?

There's a story behind that, and I did save the day. It happened my first year. The mother and this girl came up to me. Just before they clicked the picture, the little girl said, "I know you're a fake and a fraud," and she said, "You see my daddy has a suit at home in his dresser drawer." When they clicked the picture I thought quick and I told the little girl, "Go home and ask him if he's not my helper because I'm the real thing."

What's the worst thing a kid has ever done to you?

The worst thing, I would say, is one boy came up and he kicked me square in the shin. I said, "What did you do that for?" and he said, "That's for not giving me everything I asked for."

Do grown-ups ever ask to sit in your lap?

I had Barry Lillis doing the weather on my lap at the Boulevard Mall. I believe he asked me for peace on earth.

What have the top gift requests been so far this year?

Right now it's Dora [the Explorer], I think it's a singing house, for the girls, and for the boys, it's between "Star Wars" and Batman.

What have been some of the more unusual requests?

One kid asked me for a pumpkin and a bat. Another unusual request that people have asked me is for a winning lottery ticket.

Do malls pay Santa Claus? If so, what's the rate?

No comment on that. It doesn't matter for me. I do it for the love of the job. It puts gas in my truck, but I do it for the love of the kids and the people.

What's your favorite part of Christmas?

That's kind of hard. I would have to say Christmas Eve. There's something magical about it.

What's the best Christmas present you've ever received?

I think one of my favorite gifts is my parents surprised me with a tape of Batman with Michael Keaton in it. I have a tattoo of Batman. We went over to my brother's and my sister-in-law's house, and it was under the tree.

How is it that you can appear in malls all over the place, and at the same time?

Yes, I have helpers. But I am the original. I am the real one.

How many Santa suits do you own? How do you clean them?

I only own one, and I take it to a dry cleaner and store it every year.

Is that all you under that outfit?

I got padding.

So do you really enjoy the cookies and milk we leave out for you, or would you prefer something else?

I enjoy the cookies and milk, and not only that, Santa can't drink and drive.

How much sleep do you get between Thanksgiving and Christmas?

Well, being that I'm on the road all over the world doing this, I get very little, but I try my darnedest, and it's worth it for the kids' sake.

Shouldn't you be working hard at the North Pole during the holidays? How much help do you have with Christmas?

I have over 44 dozen elves at the North Pole. I have them overlooking the toys and the reindeer while I'm at the mall.

There's one thing I've always wanted to ask you: How can you really and truly visit all of the houses in the world in 24 hours?

I have the sleigh. I have the helpers, and we don't take coffee breaks. They said that once in "The Flintstones": "We don't take coffee breaks."

Please tell me: How long is your naughty list? Who are the first three people named?

No. 1: Tom Donahoe, general manager and president of the Buffalo Bills. He gave me a disappointing year. No. 2: Coach [Mike] Mularkey for that terrible showing in Miami, and, No. 3: Rob Lederman from 97 Rock. I love him on the radio, but he gives poor Larry Norton a hard time.

What is the ideal weather for a midnight ride with Santa?

A brisk, balmy night, no snow, with a hot cup of cocoa and with the stars shining and a full moon outside.

What's the favorite treat for reindeer?

I'd have to say carrots. Carrots and sugar cubes.

So what do you like to do on Dec. 26? Early in the new year?

Stay in bed. Hang up the cap and stay in bed.

Have you ever seen the Easter Bunny? What is he or she like?

Yes, very nice man. He does some of my tailoring. He's like a Robin to my Batman.

Will I be getting anything good this year, or is that rude of me to ask?

No, it's good to ask, but my question to you is: Have you been a good girl this year?

Yes, of course. I'd like world peace if I could have it.

I can't promise, but I'll do the best that I can do.

e-mail: pkowalik@buffnews.com

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