Friday, July 19, 2024

Confessions of a Mall Santa

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Being Santa can be a fun and fulfilling gig, bringing joy to others during the holiday season. It offers a chance to embrace the festive spirit and create memorable experiences for both children and adults.

Today, the holiday haul for a veteran Santa can be upward of $30,000 for a few weeks of work, making it a prime second career choice for retirees and local resident Roy Kunkle is one of them. A machinist by trade, he got a taste of performing when he landed a three-line bit part in a community play in Fernandina Beach. Although he was a newbie, he auditioned for a principal role in “Miracle on 34th Street” and got it.

“I played Kris Kringle and it snowballed from there,” he says.

Today, Kunkle suits up for Santa events and venues throughout Northeast Florida including the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ ZOOLights, the Florida Yacht Club, Jacksonville Jaguars, Jacksonville Icemen games and charitable happenings like Katelyn’s Ride for Autism, a golf-cart poker run to raise awareness and funds for those with Autism and related disabilities. Most kids are delighted, a few terrified and some not quite sure.

“One little boy at the Jacksonville Zoo was so excited he kept waving and yelling for me while in line,” Kundle said. “Finally, I said, ‘It’s your turn!’ He comes running, gets just outside of arms reach, then screams bloody murder and runs away. That was the quickest turnaround I’ve ever seen.”

Thankfully, Kunkle has since developed a bit of his own holiday magic, including using a few drops of peppermint essential oil.

“We once had a little girl who stood at the edge and just kept loudly declaring that Santa wasn’t real,” Kunkle recalled. “Her little brother gave me a hug and said, ‘You smell like candy canes!’ She said, ‘I gotta check this out,’ climbed the fence, gave me a sniff and said, ‘You ARE the real Santa!’” 

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