Dennis Van Vuren as well. He’s been a Santa for
more than twenty years, the last dozen at Janss
Mall in Thousand Oaks.
Dennis is a perfect Santa. He has a laugh you
can fairly call “jolly” that rolls up from an
ample belly to his jowls. He has the requisite
red suit and a gleeful smile that can make the
most fearful toddler settle down in his lap.
Some children don’t just ask for toys. They’ll
ask for money, cars, jewelry, and animals. Dennis’
Santa has the answer.
“Well,” he’ll say, “Santa’s a toy maker. I only
make toys. I don’t make anything else. Well, maybe
some clothes and sporting goods equipment; some
books and tapes; some musical stuff. But I don’t
make major appliances. And no money. The government
doesn’t like it if I make money. And no animals.
If I give you a dog, I have to give that little
boy who asked for an elephant today, an elephant.
I’d have a zoo up there at the North Pole.”
And the question kids ask most:
“Where are the reindeer.”
“The North Pole,” he answers matter-of-factly.
And of course a good Santa like Dennis can rattle
off their names -DasherDancerPrancerVixonCometCupidDonnerBlixen,
Dennis doesn’t ask kids whether they’ve been
naughty or nice. For some kids, he says, that’s
a lot of pressure.
“Don’t worry,” he tells them right off. “You’re
on the nice list.”
Then, after putting them at ease, Santa gives
a little advice.
“You know those dirty clothes? You’ve got to
put them inside the hamper. And your toys? Well,
if I see too many lying around, I won’t think
you need new ones. I’d pick them up if I was you.
And your brother? You guys have to treat each
other a little nicer.”
Dennis has been the Santa at Janss Mall for so
many years that he has had the opportunity to
see many of the same children year after year
growing up. A few years ago a newspaper story
showed a photo of him putting on his beard. With
a little spirit gum and his actor’s talent with
make-up, you can’t tell his beard’s not real.
But for a seven-year-old who saw the photo, the
revelation that the Santa, whose lap he had sat
on for the last six years, wasn’t really Santa
was a disappointment.
The child came up to sit on his lap anyway.
He shook his head.
“I know,” he said sadly.
“Know what?” Santa asked.
“I know you’re not real. I saw the newspaper.
I know how to read.”
“You know what,” Dennis said in his softest
voice. “All your life I have been your Santa.
I’ve listened to all your wishes and dreams. I’ve
shared Christmas with you. I’ve gotten great big
hugs from you. I’ve been a part of your life.
I don’t know about you but it has meant the world
to me. Thanks for coming up here and being with
The little boy looked back at Dennis and said,
“You know, I don’t know if there’s a real Santa
or not. But if there is, I bet it’s someone just
Those moments are the perks of the job. Dennis
says if you want to know what it’s like to feel
like Santa Claus, it’s easy. Take a few bucks,
buy a toy, and drop it inside a “Toys for Tots”
box. You’ll never know who gets it. You’ll never
hear one thank you from anyone. But what you will
do is make Christmas happy for a child who wouldn’t
have had a Merry Christmas but for you.
“And that’s what Christmas is about,” Santa told
me. “It’s not what you get. It’s what you give.”