(Published in the December 2021 issue of Our Milton Neighbor/Our Crabapple Neighbor Magazine and winner of December's "most captivating cover.")
I thought I recognized him, then I thought to myself, can it really be? Dressed in faded jeans, black boots, and an I Love Candy tee, he still had an mistakable canniness to, well… Santa Claus!
That big white beard, that jolly laugh, those rosy cheeks, but why would Santa be lunching on a club sandwich and fries at a local Milton restaurant in December?
I picked up my napkin from my lap, took a deep breath, walked over, and tapped him on the shoulder, “Excuse me, Sir,” I whispered, “Are you…. Santa Claus?”
His rosy cheeks lifted into a warm smile, “Why yes young lady…. I am Santa,” he said.
Not sure about the young lady part, but after working as a reporter for decades, I’ve interviewed Presidents, flown with the Blue Angels, covered hurricanes, and red carpet appearances, but this, interviewing Santa Claus right here in my home town, may be the biggest scoop of my career! Even better than my interview with my all time favorite, laminated, Hollywood crush, Tom Cruise!
As I sat there, writing fact after fact, as fast as I could, taking note after note, my eyes filled with excitement. Wow, Santa’s life goes way beyond crafting toys and the North Pole!
It all started back in July of 1996 during the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. After flying over Milton for decades, Santa was drawn to Milton for its horse farms, hiking trails, and wide open spaces. He was so fond of this little utopia we all call home, he treated the missus to special vacations here. Sometimes he would take a reindeer or two and discovered Dasher, Prancer, and Vixen loved the horse farms too and could blend in easily with the locals. So that very same year, Santa and Mrs. Claus decided to open their “Southern Workshop”, right here in Milton, Georgia.
“Sometimes one or two of the elves will come along. We love to stroll through Avalon and the new downtown Alpharetta area. I like to browse quaint shops for unusual items on Christmas lists. Me and the elves love many of the hiking trails available and nearby Milton. And me and Mrs. Claus enjoy our favorite local restaurants like The Union, Crust, and Ceviche,” says Santa.
Mr. and Mrs. Claus met back in high school at the North Pole. They were both involved in theater and did several plays together. Before he started making toys, Santa cut grass during the short arctic summers, shoveled snow during the long arctic winters, and delivered newspapers all year round to make extra money in his youth.
Now Santa wants the youth of Milton to know, he is always watching.
“If they appear shy, I will ask, “Do you know who I am?” says Santa. “Depending on what season we are in, I will ask how they are enjoying themselves. I tell them Santa is always watching. Most times I have coins that say “I was caught being good” with Santa and I like to share these with children.”
These days Santa says his most requested gifts are electronics, mainly gaming systems and phones. But he loves when children ask for classic gifts like arts and crafts or books and other items that help children learn and grow.
“Santa is not a magician, however he is MAGICAL,” says Santa. “His magic comes from the spirit of Christmas which fills his heart and soul. This is something he lives by everyday of the year, not just the holiday season.”
On Christmas Eve if you want to fill Santa’s belly with his favorite cookie, I got a little inside scoop from the jolly ole elf himself! He prefers round cookies, specifically, chocolate chip. But then he let out a “ho ho ho” and said Mrs. Claus would prefer if he ate healthy snacks. Maybe leave some carrots and he can share with his reindeer!
And while children all around the world are busy enjoying their new gifts, what does Santa do on December 26?
“I sleep in late and have Christmas dinner with Mrs. Claus. I then hold a meeting with all of the elves and the missus to reflect on our accomplishments of the previous year and look forward to next year,” says Santa.
And then Santa turned the tables on me!
“What about you young lady, have you been good this year,” asked Santa.
Of course, I always make the good list, given or take a naughty incident here and there! He opened his book, flipped to my name, and there I was, a lifetime member of the good list! He handed me one of his gold little coins for believing in Santa and keeping the magic of Christmas alive.
And then in the blink of an eye, he was gone! I looked all around the restaurant, the jolly old elf was gone! Then I heard a horse whiney. The horse tossed his tail and nodded his head. He too knows the secret of Milton, and I bet Santa’s reindeer hang out on the horse farm with this guy too.
Wow, I got to meet the real Santa Claus right here in Milton, and I never even gave him my Christmas list!!!
You can contact Santa
Photos by Rachel Yatteau
Photos taken at one of Santa's favorite farms, The Art Barn