GUELPH - His name is Mike Campbell, but he prefers "Santa."
He's been playing Santa for 40 years.
Campbell says the joy he sees on people’s faces is so rewarding it is greater than any fee anyone could pay him.
“I don’t charge to be Santa Claus. That’s not my thing,” says Campbell. “I just get a lot of joy seeing the smiling faces and it's not just the kids. It’s everybody.”
Campbell says he understands that the role comes with a large responsibility and is aware of the parents’ trust in the few minutes of interaction he has with the children.
"I’m very conscious of what I promise and what I say," says Campbell.
When children ask for things that cost a lot of money, he says the parents often give him feedback by giving him a nod that says the gift will be arriving at the house.
“I try to keep it on a level playing field so all the kids feel equal and that’s very important,” said Campbell.
He has a team of six secret service Santa helpers who are also present at the Santa parade. They help him interact with the audience by getting the names of children and running it back to him.
“They go and stand beside the boy and I’ll use their name. When I say 'Merry Christmas,' their day just lights right up.”
He says each individual that comes to see Santa has a different story.
A six-year-old boy once asked for only one thing; to find his three-year-old sister’s lost blanket.
So he told one of his elves to go to the boy's parents to get a photo of the blanket so he could purchase it.
“I got the blanket and I dropped it off at the house,” says Campbell about the child who touched his heart.
Over the years he has heard some amazing things.
“Some of the stories from the older folks are the best,” says Campbell.
He hears all kinds of requests from adults from bringing a new love interest to getting married.
“They tell you exactly what they want and I usually get in trouble because I didn’t bring them what they wanted.”
Apart from the joy and cheer he loves to spread, there is one thing that bothers him; when parents force their kids toward Santa.
“Just leave them alone. They will come around. I usually tell them to take them away and come around and they will come back,” says Campbell.
He says kids are kids and will ask for whatever they want, whether it is an Xbox or a 54-inch TV. Demands don't always get the nod from the parents.
“That’s when I have to get into the spirit of Christmas talk and say its not about material things. It's about giving. Some of the kids who are five or six years old are beginning to understand that and I think that’s just our society,” says Campbell.
He says as joyful as the kids are, they are also sharp.
“One time, I had clean gloves, pure white, and I had this five year old and he says, 'Santa, where is your reindeer? And why are your gloves so white if you were holding the reins?'” says Campbell.
He was so caught off guard that he immediately made up a story that he now uses every year. That the reindeers are out on Brubachers Farm outside Guelph eating a large lunch so they can have the energy to fly back to the North Pole.
Ever since that day, Campbell says he always wears his dirty gloves to truly get into character.
He says the best part about being Santa Claus in Guelph is his rule of not charging parents for photos taken with Santa.
“Some people may be able to afford it, some people may not and it just deters that spirit for Christmas," says Campbell.
"And that’s why I do it, it's the spirit of Christmas. It's the spirit of giving,” adding that Santa is supposed to give so why would he charge for a photo?
Campbell says for those who insist on donating, he tells them to donate to a charity of their choice.
“As far as I’m concerned, Guelph has the best little Santa Parade in all of Ontario,” says Campbell.