Mr. Claus at Your Service

These Santas take their seasonal role to heart
Mr. and Mrs. Claus (a.k.a. Bonnie and Stan Morlando) with 9-year-old Emely and 5-year-old Kailyn Urgiles at the Snow Village at Groundworks Landscaping in East Hampton. “I want a pony for Christmas,” Kailyn said. Johnette Howard

If there is one constant about Santa Claus this time of year, it’s that he tends to get around. Just last weekend he appeared in the East Hampton Chamber of Commerce parade, and he also punched in for three hours at Groundworks Landscaping in East Hampton with Mrs. Claus at his side. He’ll be back at noon both days this weekend with a band playing to his right and the lights of Whoville beckoning children to enter a display to his left.

Last Saturday, a different Mrs. Claus appeared at the East Hampton Ladies Village Improvement Society (Why solo? We don’t judge). Santa was also in the house at Fowler’s Garden Center in Southampton, where he will return from 1 to 4 both days this weekend. That’s fortunate, because last Sunday Santa was too busy to come to the phone to chat.

“He’s leaving in about 10 minutes,” a Fowler’s employee said. 

Could Santa perhaps talk when he’s through at 4? “Why, he has to get back to the North Pole and make all those toys,” she answered, as if the question were absurd.

The point is, if it’s a photo with Santa that you want this holiday season, there are still places to go and plenty of men (and women) who are willing to dress up to make the dream come true. Most of them say it’s a special calling, all right, but it’s not without its challenges. It might surprise you to know that many are pretty serious about the work, too, and refuse to divulge even the tamest anecdotes about kids who wet their pants, kids who got sick on their laps, or kids who asked for a Mercedes or stock portfolio instead of a teddy bear or world peace.

If a theme emerges from talking to a lot of Santas, it’s that your secret is safe with them.

“Oh yes, but I find most children are actually well behaved because they want something from Santa,” Stan Morlando pointed out with a laugh after his appearance at Groundworks Sunday with Mrs. Claus (his real-life wife, Bonnie).

“Sometimes the kids will ask me, ‘Is Santa Claus for real?’ ” Mrs. Morlando said, “and I tell them, ‘Why, I believe in him so much I married him!’ Which is true; I’m not lying to the child.”

Smiling now, she added, “Would you like a candy cane? You’ve been a very good girl.”

The Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton will host another Santa on Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. Santa will also be at Harbor Pets in Sag Harbor, where from 11 to 2 p.m. on Sunday you can have him pose with your pet by a fireplace. Dogs need no appointments, but cat owners visit at their own peril and should arrive early. “Otherwise, there’s hell to pay,” the storeowner, Alan Fruitstone, said. He has played Santa for seven years, and says he’s learned a lot in that time, starting with this: Pet owners tend to love the one they’re with.

“Two years ago somebody brought in a chicken,” Mr. Fruitstone said.

Another year, Darhiana Loja, a store employee, wasn’t content merely to  play Santa’s elf yet again. She took in her pet water frog and it went smashingly well. Little Fresca is absolutely beaming in the photo.

“She’s usually aggressive,” Ms. Loja said, “so I have a little sign on her tank that says, ‘Please don’t feed me. Please don’t put your fingers in the tank.’ But guess what? Surprise. People always do it anyway. She has no teeth. But she tries to bite them.”

Mr. Fruitstone said he enjoys playing Santa because, “It’s always a fun day.”

Mr. Morlando said he was first invited to fill the Santa role 23 years ago at the annual holiday party hosted by the electric company where he worked. The previous Santa retired. Mrs. Morlando helped him get dressed for his appearances the first 15 years — “It’s a procedure,” she says — and took over the Mrs. Claus role from another woman eight years ago. “She was very nice, but I stepped on her foot and got her to go away,” Mrs. Morlando said. 

Hearty laugh.

“I’m kidding!” she added.

To appear at Groundworks’ wonderfully elaborate snow village, the Morlandos flew in last weekend from their home in Vestal, a town in upstate New York. Besides being fun, it’s a favor to the owner, Kim Hren, because Ms. Hren went to college with one of their four children. “Anything for the Kimmer,” Mrs. Claus said. 

Mr. Morlando said he commissioned his terrific velvet Santa costume from a local tailor — “It took three fittings” — and his sensational beard is a mail-order find his wife sent for.

Asked a second time for any now-it-can-be-told kid stories, Mr. Morlando does offer one: One year he saw a precocious little boy approaching and whispered to his wife that he could feel some mischief coming on. Sure enough, once on his lap, the little boy tried to pull off Santa’s beard — not knowing Mr. Morlando had beaten him to the punch by putting his thumb underneath his bottom lip to hold it in place. Then he yelled “Ouch!” when the kid tugged.

The wide-eyed boy looked at him as if to say, “Maybe you are real after all.”

“We were talking just the other day about how many hundreds of children have come across his lap over the years, and how he’s unknowingly been a part of so many people’s Christmas cards or photos hanging on their trees somewhere,” Mrs. Claus said. “It’s a wonderful footprint to have in this life.”

When their Santa duties are done, the Morlandos head south for their winter home near Walt Disney World in sunny Orlando. Mrs. Morlando confided that she happens to be a “Disney freak” and if there’s one role besides Mrs. Claus “which is on my bucket list, which I don’t believe is ever going to happen in this life,” it’s this: “I would like to be the Fairy Godmother. At Disney. But. . . .”

Yes? 

“I think they want someone who looks like the Fairy Godmother. But is younger.”

Mrs. Morlando paused just a second, as if absorbing the blow anew. Then brightening again, she added, “But hey, I can bibbidi-bobbidi-boo with the best of them!”

Ho, ho, ho. We know.