Santa has lots of “helpers”: Jolly, white-bearded fellows in red suits ready to hear kids’ holiday wish lists, often after long waits in line. But there’s the occasional bad fruitcake. A flat-out Santa Fraud, if you will. Like this guy.
Allegedly, a fully costumed faux Father Christmas brazenly set up his little green chair on the choicest turf: right outside Macy’s flagship store in New York City. Wielding a hand bell in one white glove and a “red knapsack full of cash and clothes in the other,” The New York Post reports, the “fake fat man” lured tourists for a single photo op at a steep $5 (use your own camera, please and thanks). The story also points out that his perch, smack in Herald Square, is “prime panhandling real estate.”
With some classic man-on-the-street reporting/photography credited to four reporters, the Post – which, so far, is the only outlet this writer found covering the “is this for real!?” news – scrounged up some compelling sources. One was an annoyed mom who told her thrilled 4-year-old son, “No, honey, the real Santa’s inside. Come on.” Other parents were not so stealth: One photo shows an adorable little girl in a pink coat dropping a bill in Santa’s bag. Another standout was an unhappy fellow panhandler named Bill Lee, dressed up as famed snowman Olaf. (Actually, scratch the doubt: I sort of just really want this story to be real.)
So. What’d this impish imposter have to say for himself? A few things – though he insisted the Post credit his quotes to “Kris Kringle.”
For one, he claimed he was offering a cheaper alternative to Macy’s Santaland. Granted, photo packages start at about $20, according to the Mommy Poppins in NYC; still, the magical 13,000-square-foot display offers plenty of little photo ops along the way (and the lap-sit itself is free). He also declared he gives “some” of the cash to charity. “It’s mostly local schools,” a cryptic Kringle told the Post. “I don’t want to say where.”
To top it all off, with Miracle on 34th Street-style flourish, he maintained his authenticity – and defended his approach as much gentler compared to other costumed panhandlers, since he never “grabs” anyone for a photo. “People come to me. I’m Santa. I don’t have to grab anyone.”
As a trained print journalist, I’m obliged to acknowledge: Historically, The New York Post doesn’t rank particularly high in the arena of credibility. (In the tabloid’s dogged recent coverage of the “War on Christmas,” it’s also pointed out that bums have put the kibosh on the holidays in The Bronx.) But the teeny-tiny naughty part of me has to smirk, just a bit, at this bogus elf’s bold move, real or not. I guess you can say I still believe? Yes, Virginia: There is a Santa Fraud. And, from the looks of the 10-image photo gallery, the lines to see him aren’t so bad.
For its part, a Macy’s spokesman reportedly added, “The one and only Santa Claus resides at Macy’s Santaland on the eighth floor of the store.”
Photo courtesy of The New York Post