An Interview with the “Man in Red”


Jessica Janney

Santa waits for his next visitor. The balloon in his hand is a gift from the little boy who just left.

Did you know that the Santa at Patrick Henry Mall has 16 grandchildren and is a retired English teacher?  “Santa Gary”  has been dressing as Santa for the past fifteen years, and working at the mall for the past five. In an interview with The Lion’s Roar, he shared some of his experiences as the man in red.

Q. What do you get asked for the most?

A. “It varies with each year. For both girls and boys, the big ticket item this year is a hover board.”

Q. Do children ever come in and ask for intangible items, things that you can’t buy at a store?

A. “Some people come in and ask for prayers. Two years ago a 7 year old boy came in and asked me to pray for another boy named Wes Pack, who has stage 4 brain cancer. Wes is still alive to this day. Another time a five year old girl came in and asked if I could put her parents back together. Even adults come in and ask for prayers, if they have a business that they are trying to start up.”

Q. How do you normally handle these requests?

A. “I’ll tell the kids that I will ask different churches to pray for the child and whatever they ask for.”

Q. Tell me about a typical work day.

A. “I work for 50 days from 10 in the morning to 9 at night, with 45 minute breaks in between. I have been Santa here [Patrick Henry Mall] for five years, but I have dressed as Santa for about 15 years.”

Q. What would you consider your best and worst days on the job?

A. “There are never bad days, but when people that have reservations come in it makes the people that have been waiting and standing in line for two or three hours a little upset. Then they take it out on the girls [the elves] which upset them.”

Q. What did you do before you became a full time Santa?”

A. “I was a senior English teacher at York and Tabb High School, but I retired in 2003.”

Q. What made you want to be Santa?

A. “I’ve got all the attributes. I started being Santa in 1997. Teaching definitely helped because you want good Santas, not a guy who’s mean.”

Q. Is the beard real?

A. “Yes, I’m 67 years old, so this beard is definitely real. You can even see some black in it which makes it authentic.”

Q. Do you dress as Santa for any other occasions?

A. “I dress up and take pictures with my neighbors’ kids.”

Q. Has being Santa every taken you out of Virginia?”

A. “I have gone up and down the east coast dressed as Santa.”

Q. What do you like most about being Santa?

A. “Kids keep you young, I’ve got 16 grands [grandchildren] with ages ranging from 2 years old to 25 years old.”

Q. Is Santa real?

A. “Santa is real! You know it all started out with a guy called Saint Nicholas. He went around his town on Christmas and gave everyone gifts.”