As Todd Jandreau relies on his cane to walk through Home Depot, a child runs to him. His white beard, red suit and uproarious laugh make him a walking target for children.
“Hey there,” Jandreau said to the little boy.
Jandreau’s eyes peered over the glasses that hang on the end of his nose.
“How are you?” the 60-year-old Mission man dressed as Santa Claus asked.
After a short exchange, Jandreau continues to his chair located at the entrance of the store.
“That’s the best. It’s the whole reason for doing it,” he said of talking to children. “The kids’ faces light up, you know you’ve made them happy.
“That’s the whole reason for Christmas all together — just for children and the happiness it brings them. What other reason is there?”
This is Jandreau’s fifth year donning Santa’s garb. For years his friends said he resembled the holiday icon, even with his black hair.
“Once my beard started turning white, it was sort of a must,” he said.
If one is portraying the legendary figure, you have to know the history, he said. A good Santa is ready to field questions from the curious.
Kids inquire about his reindeer; how many he has and what they eat. And they ask about why they never see him, or his sled.
His eyes swelled as he told an origin story of Santa.
“It’s so beautiful in its originality and how it started,” he said. It was nice “to be continuing it along and to spread the story of what really is Christmas.”
But inevitably, they tell him what they want for Christmas.
This year, the popular items are “L.O.L. dolls, Squishies, … Legos, Nerf guns and phones,” he said. Some kids ask for things like a ventriloquist dummy, a million Barbies or a spaceship, he laughs.
“All this commercialism has nothing to do with Christmas. That’s not Christmas,” he said. “Christmas is opening your heart for somebody else; to help out (and) to give of yourself.
“I think as a society, for the most part, we’ve lost it.”
Even just sentiments in greeting cards have shortened, words replaced with abbreviations and emoticons, he said.
Jandreau has worked with his hands his entire life, starting with construction at 8, he said, and becoming a lumberjack at 12. He’s made stained-glass windows, furniture and jewelry. He’s also familiar with leather and metal work, and built toys for kids.
“Our economy is built on throwing things away and buying a new one,” he said. “They don’t want you to repair it. If you can repair it, it’ll last.”
He spoke about a simpler time, which he attributes to the reason adults take pictures with him.
“It takes you back to your childhood; back to when life was simpler,” he said. “You didn’t have to worry about raising kids or making bill payments. You didn’t have to worry about your job.
“You had time for everything when you were a kid. You didn’t have a schedule.”
When asked what he wanted for Christmas, Jandreau reminisced about his past. He remembered the last time he visited his native St. Francis, Maine, on the border of the United States and Canada.
He romanticized sitting by a bonfire in a lawn chair with his brother as the International Space Station passed overhead through the sky.
“I would like a nice clear night to see the stars and a cold beer,” he said, erupting into a hearty laugh.