Editor’s Notice: This Christmas story first ran on PhillyVoice on Dec. 21, 2017:
Frank Naimoli by no means meant to turn out to be one of the busiest Santas within the Philadelphia area.
However what began as a playful, household gig 20 years in the past now brings him into the houses of strangers each Christmas Eve, when he permits youngsters to catch Santa delivering their presents throughout a so-called “Sneak and Peek.”
Most of the time, the youngsters are thrilled by the sight of Kris Kringle munching on their cookies and putting presents beneath the Christmas tree. However as soon as and some time, even Santa Claus will get a shock.
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“One father who did it, he said he thought it would be the greatest thing in the world,” Naimoli stated. “He woke up the little ones. … They all snuck down the steps. The smallest one looked, let out a blood-curdling scream and ran back up the steps, to the point where I almost had a heart attack.”
Naimoli, 48, of Glenolden, Delaware County, makes dozens of personal appearances each vacation season. However make no mistake – he is no mall Santa.
His appearances start with household photograph shoots in November and peak together with his Christmas Eve visits. In between, there are quite a few workplace events, hospital stops, household gatherings and public occasions – from South Philly to Jenkintown, from Studying to Collingdale.
Subsequent yr, he is even going to officiate a marriage.
“It’s a whirlwind couple of months” this time of yr, stated Naimoli, who additionally works as a safety guard. “I leave the house at 7 in the morning, sometimes getting home as late as 11 at night. I’m putting hundreds of miles on the sleigh. In between events, I actually sleep in the car, eat in the car.”
A REAL, BEARDED SANTA
Santa’s sleigh, by the best way, is definitely a purple Prius with a custom license plate that reads “ON COMET.” And he is been recognized to cease for pictures – even when he is virtually run off the street within the course of.
“I call it the red light picture,” Naimoli stated. “If you look out a window and see a bunch of little ones smiling and jumping up and down – I just can’t drive away. I never turn down a photo.”
In any case, if Santa drove away, which may erode some of the magic Kris Kringle shares with the youngsters. And Naimoli is all about enjoying the half of the jolly good fellow.
To start out, he owns 5 Santa fits, together with a 1950 outfit from the C.W. Howard Santa Faculty in Michigan, the world’s oldest Santa Claus faculty. He additionally has spent tons of of dollars on a custom-made belt and a pair of suspenders outfitted with bells.
And the beard? It is actual, of course.
As a member of the Worldwide Brotherhood of Actual Bearded Santas – sure, that is a factor – Naimoli wears a full beard that he dyes white and treats with oil that smells like sweet canes. As genuine as his look could also be, you get the sense his Santa-ness, his prompt rapport with younger and previous alike, comes not from the hat, however the coronary heart.
On yet one more look, this one on Saturday at an Italian market in Doylestown, the youngsters sat on his lap as he regaled them in a mild tone with tales of elves and Santa historical past –
and his Naughty-or-Good meter. The Previous World contraption – which bears a sure resemblance to a compass – works by way of a magnetic needle, a dial of numbers from zero (most naughty) to 15 (most good) and a bit of Santa magic.
“Well, you have a 15,” he informed one grinning younger woman, displaying her the dial. “That’s the first 15 I’ve ever seen.”
Certainly, the little ones have been scoring very excessive on Santa’s meter that day, a lot to their delight.
“Some of the best reactions are from the babies,” Naimoli stated. “A lot of times, it’s the first time they’ve seen a big fluffy, white beard, so they grab it. The next thing you know, you have a baby swinging from your beard.”
Through the years, Naimoli has acquired hundreds of notes from youngsters asking for all types of Christmas presents. He refuses to throw them away.
“I always thought that they put a lot of work and thought into that letter,” Naimoli stated. “For me to just discard it, to me, would be an injustice.”
“Then it hit me, because I took that photo with her. I’m probably going to be the last Santa she ever had a photo with. It puts everything back into perspective.” – Santa Frank
Between the notes and appearances, Naimoli has acquired all types of requests from youngsters through the years.
Animals are a well-liked request. Yearly, anyone asks for a monkey, he stated. And other people have put every little thing from alligators to rhinos on their Christmas lists.
“Last year, I had a young man ask me for a sloth,” Naimoli stated. “Apparently, he has a dog – but the dog is always running around. He has to take it out and he wanted something that he didn’t have to chase.”
One other time, a toddler requested for a snowplow so he might pile all of the snow in entrance of his faculty. That approach, he figured, it could not open.
“Of course, you get the children who ask you for things that make you just shake your head,” Naimoli stated. “I had one little man ask me for a bag of oranges. I do not know why. The mother and father simply checked out me and stated, ‘He likes oranges.’
“One thing is, you don’t promise anything. I was pretty sure I could deliver on that one.”
SPREADING CHRISTMAS CHEER
However sometimes youngsters make requests that Naimoli is aware of Santa undoubtedly can’t ship – to heal a sick member of the family, good friend or pet. And people are the hardest ones to deal with.
“How do you do it without breaking the little guy or gal’s heart, you know?” Naimoli stated. “I’m a softie. I can’t hurt anybody’s feelings. … I say that I can’t make him well, but you and I can maybe spread a little Christmas cheer to him. I explain to them that that’s what Santa Claus does – that’s the Christmas spirit.”
Typically, Santa unknowingly delivers some of that Christmas spirit.
One yr, Naimoli was taking photographs at a credit score union close to Studying with a lady and her grown daughter. He laughed as the lady advised him how a lot she loved sweet canes as a younger woman.
About 30 minutes later, the 2 ladies returned for extra pictures, this time with a second daughter.
“The girls were ecstatic just to get these pictures,” Naimoli stated. “After that they had left, one of the employees got here up and informed me that the mom was simply recognized with terminal most cancers. She does not have quite a bit of time left.
“I would have never known it from how much she was having fun and bringing joy. Then it hit me, because I took that photo with her. I’m probably going to be the last Santa she ever had a photo with. It puts everything back into perspective.”
About three years in the past, Naimoli visited a nursing residence the place many residents suffered from Alzheimer’s illness and did not perceive why they have been dwelling there. However when Naimoli started main them in “Jingle Bells,” all of them started singing alongside – even remembering a couple of obscure verses.
“The nurses had a shocked look on their faces because they couldn’t believe they remembered the words,” Naimoli stated. “It was a beautiful moment because you realized the memories that they had just came back to them. They kind of shined.
“To me, it was a real Christmas second.”
A SANTA WITH A SENSE OF HUMOR
Whereas Santa can get all sappy, he is not afraid to play some reindeer video games.
Typically, youngsters mistakenly assume Naimoli is older than he truly is. They’ve tossed a number of snowballs in his path, not understanding he as soon as dabbled in skilled wrestling.
“Quite a few times,” Naimoli stated, “They didn’t know that Santa was able to throw one back at quite that speed.”
When adults tug on his beard questioning whether or not it is actual, he’ll playfully pull on their very own beard and ask the identical query.
But, Naimoli stays protecting of the Santa Claus picture, showing solely at occasions he considers healthful. However with some reservations, he as soon as appeared at a Hooters restaurant for a “Breakfast with Santa” occasion.
“It was actually very well done,” Naimoli stated. “They had a nice breakfast. Besides the Hooters girls in their regular outfits, it went well. I did notice that there were a lot of fathers bringing their children to that event.”
On one other event, he attended a bachelorette get together – however with strict guidelines.
“I don’t allow alcohol in the photos or anything,” Naimoli stated. “You can imagine how it was when you had a bunch of bachelorettes that were a few cocktails into the wind. I did get two marriage proposals that night, which I thought was funny.”
However he often finds himself entertaining youngsters, seniors and households with tales of Santa’s historical past. He’ll shortly share Santa’s age – 1,747 years previous – or clarify why he will not present youngsters his reindeer.
“My deer are only used to my elves and Mrs. Claus,” Naimoli tells the youngsters. “If you scare them, they’re going to run off and then I’m going to be here for two weeks.”
Such questions typically come up at his “Santa Q&A’s” – occasions the place youngsters are free to fireside off any query at Previous Saint Nick.
So, for those who’ve ever questioned what Santa Claus does after delivering toys to youngsters the world over, Naimoli presents a touch.
Father Christmas – or at the least the model portrayed by Naimoli – collapses into mattress.
“I get home from Christmas Eve and – nine times out of 10 – I don’t get the suit off,” Naimoli stated. “I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and take it off.”