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My life as a shopping centre Santa

From dealing with disbelieving children to getting kicked ‘where no one should kick Santa’.

fairy make a wish 8 Source: Profile Events

DEDICATED TO THE cause, Dan Young bleaches his hair and beard each November.

For the past 11 years, the artist and former actor has been playing the ultimate Christmas role: Santa Claus.

“For kids who come in believing, I like to give them a reason to believe. To the 12-year-old who’s starting to question things, I give one more year of maybe.”

Young is from Maryland in the US, but moved to Ireland after his father-in-law became ill in the 1990s.

He is Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre’s resident Santa – something that led to his children (now 18 and 20) asking a lot of questions when they were younger.

Years ago I was on O’Connell Street with my son and a bus drove by with my face on it. He looked at the bus and looked and me and asked, ‘Dad?’ I had to explain that I was going to play a role.

Young admits this was a bit confusing for his kids at first but they soon liked the idea, telling their friends at school: “My dad’s Santa.”

He was approached to take on the role after being spotted drawing caricatures at a children’s party. He said the then manager of Stephen’s Green was unimpressed by the fact Santa was being played by “a 140lb college student with a flat Dublin accent”.

I’m big guy with an American accent and a real beard … the deal-breaker was whether I would bleach my hair and beard.

The process takes four-and-a-half hours.

Young has won awards for his portrayal of Santa. He has a strong following and said some people come from abroad to see him each year as part of their family’s Christmas tradition.

I try to put my all into it. I want kids to know there is still some magic in the world.

So, what does he do when children, inevitably, ask if he’s the real deal?

I tell them: ‘Santa Claus isn’t so much a person as a spirit that is there 24 hours a day of every year. It may not always be in the North Pole, but it can be in the eyes of a teacher at school or a nurse or parent. If he has to be right there for some special reason he can be. He can even be looking out from behind a red suit and a beard, like right now.’

Young has had to deal with many issues on the job. Once a child kicked him “where no one should kick Santa”. “I was watery-eyed in those photos, looking like: ‘Where the heck am I?’”

20141123_155500_resized_1 Source: Profile Events

One moment that really stands out for Young is his relationship with a girl who had a debilitating condition known as ’butterfly disease’ which causes the skin to blister at the slightest touch. She visited him every Christmas and one year had improved so much that he was able to hug her.

‘I’m wiser when I’m him’

On other occasions, Young met children who had recently been bereaved.

“The first time it happened I didn’t know what to say … It’s strange, once I’m in character when I look in the mirror I see someone that’s smarter than I am. The stuff that comes out of my mouth when I’m him is so wise – he always knows just what to say.

One year a child came to me whose parents had died in a car crash just three days before that. I told her not to worry about them because Christmas was Jesus’s birthday and her mom and dad were asked to come to his birthday party.

‘They’re at his table right now. Don’t think they’re not missing you because they are, but you don’t need to worry about them because they’re enjoying the party.’ She hugged me. Her aunt burst into tears and hugged me too.

“I wondered where that came from. If we were all more like Santa, the world would be a better place.”

Irish people reveal what they know about the true meaning of Christmas…

Opinion: Christmas – the season of sugar-laced tantrums, queues, and unreasonable demands

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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