People have called Mike Oliphant Santa Claus long before he ever put on a red suit, but now, nine years after first donning the velvet hat and cotton gloves, the role has taken on a new meaning.
“It is fun,” Oliphant said Wednesday morning before his shift at Branson Landing where he spends his days inside a 50-foot Christmas tree house, listening to children’s wish lists and handing out candy. “Sometimes it is fun, sometimes it is sad. Sometimes you have to play counselor because so many come from broken homes or the dad is off at war.”
He said some requests, he knows no Santa could grant.
“Sometimes it is sad and they want Daddy home for Christmas, because he is away serving, or Momma, because mothers are in the service, too,” Oliphant said. “I just say, ‘Mommy and Daddy love you and they have to do what they have to do.’”
Some things he said he hears, he isn’t really prepared to hear.
“Sometimes they break your heart,” he said. “I say to every kid, ‘Santa loves you.’ I don’t say ‘I love you.’ I say ‘Santa loves you,’ because some kids may never hear that word used.
“Some of the kids surprise me because they say I don’t want anything for Christmas. They say, ‘Give it all to someone else.’ And, then I have some who ask for everything.”
It isn’t just the things children say that oftentimes surprise Oliphant, but usually what children request.
He said wish lists often include iPods, iPads, game systems, video games and even cellphones — not the typical requests he expects from children.
“Toys, they don’t really ask for toys,” he said.
Not all children are looking for big-ticket items, though.
“From girls, I hear a lot wanting Barbie houses,” he said. “Legos are probably the No. 1 boy toy.”
Some children aren’t even looking for toys.
“A boy told me yesterday, he had three sisters, and he said, ‘I know my mom won’t give it to me, but I want a brother,” Oliphant said with a chuckle.
It isn’t just children who pop in to see Santa though.
“The adults have just as much fun as the kids,” he said. “We’ve had them up to 85-years-old.”
The idea of becoming Santa wasn’t really Oliphant’s idea, it was more of a suggestion.
“I was a chiropractor for 33 years,” he said.
About a decade ago, Oliphant retired and made the move from Harrisonville to Branson.
“I’d always had a beard and it turned white with age,” he said. “People just started calling me Santa Claus, so I thought that was a good idea.”
Santa can can be found at Branson Landing daily starting at 11 a.m. through Dec. 24.