He has presumably already made the list, checked it two times, has found out who made the naughty or nice list, and has come to town for the holiday season. Santa Claus is currently spending his days in the J.C. Penney Court at the Dakota Square Mall in Minot and will be there until Christmas Eve when he makes his journey around the globe with his nine tiny reindeer.
So far, Santa Claus, or Mel Harker, as he's known during the non-holiday season, who's originally from Alberta but lives in Salt Lake City, said there have been a lot of children visiting him to put in their requests for gifts. The age range of kids visiting has been 80 percent who are under 8 years old, or under second grade, he noted, with only 20 percent of kids being screamers and taking three to five seconds to launch into a full meltdown. He prefers talking to kids in the 10 and younger crowd, Harker said, and he doesn't lift the kids onto his lap himself, but lets the parents set them where they prefer.
"I've had no accidents, no sticky suckers stuck in my beard, and no children have wet on me yet," Harker remarked.
Mel Harker, in his role as Santa Claus, along with two of his assistants, wait for children to visit on Monday morning in the J.C. Penney Court at Dakota Square Mall. Harker will be at the mall taking children’s requests for gifts until Christmas Eve. He doesn’t say he’s the actual Santa Claus, however, just one of Santa’s helpers.
The Santa Claus display, located in the J.C. Penney Court at Dakota Square Mall, is where kids can place their requests for gifts to Santa and see if they’re on the naughty or nice list. If Santa can’t find a kid’s name on the list the first time, he’ll check it twice.
There have been the usual requests from girls and boys about what they'd like for Christmas. The girls most often ask for dolls, while the boys frequently ask for trucks and trains, Harker said. The older ones ask for iPads and Xboxes, he noted, while recently one girl asked for a vacuum. The iPods and Xboxes are pricey gifts, he said, and if they already have those, they ask for Xbox games.
It's usually apparent that a kid doesn't believe in Santa Claus' existence with the older crowd, ages 11 and up. A lot of times the parents will want their older child in a picture with Santa and the child doesn't want to, Harker said. Usually, Harker said he tells children that he's just Santa's helper and the real one is at the North Pole.
A difficult part about playing Santa Claus is maintaining a smile while a photo is taken multiple times, Harker noted. However, he has also seen parents lie on the floor or do other silly activities to get their child to smile. "Sometimes the parents are more entertaining than the kids," he added. "The parents are hilarious."
Harker said he particularly likes the children who really believe in the existence of Santa Claus. "The look in their face and eyes give you a real warm feeling. The majority of them are believers."
Playing the character of Santa Claus is relatively new for Harker. This is his second season doing so, playing the role sporadically for elementary schools last year, he explained. This is his first season playing the role at the mall.
Last August or September, Harker was at a 50th high school reunion with a lady friend and was talking to a guy with a ruddy face and white beard who told Harker that he knew of this place hiring Santas for the mall. Harker was sent a Santa costume and how-to instructions, then sent a video back to the company and a week later was hired for a job to play Santa Claus at the Dakota Square Mall. "I flew in on November 8 (from Salt Lake City) and have been here as Santa ever since."
Often times Harker is recognized by people when he's not dressed up as Santa Claus. When he was at a farmer's market with his daughter last September, a lady approached him and asked if he'd talk to her daughter, he said. Another time, he was sitting on a beach in Hawaii and someone commented about Santa being at the beach, Harker continued, and there are also times when kids point to his beard and say, "There's Santa." Harker is not actually Santa Claus, he pointed out, he just "perpetrates the illusion."
A piece of advice Harker said he'd like to give to kids about his upcoming Christmas Eve visit, in his role as Santa Claus, is, "Be good, eat all your vegetables, clean your room, and go to bed early so you get on the good list."