That Jonathan Meath came to play Santa Claus seems almost inevitable. Early in life his beard went white; So did his long hair. “Kids, all the time, would come up to me on the street and go, ‘Hello, Santa,’ ” he says. But it wasn’t until 2006, when Meath, a musician and longtime children’s television producer, took the necessary and jolly plunge. In the five years since, he’s traveled all over the country, visiting hospitals and malls, schools and parties. He’s bettered his “ho-ho-ho” at Santa school and even cut a CD of holiday songs. We caught up with Meath–after Christmas–at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“Santa is really the only cultural icon we have who’s male, doesn’t carry a gun, and is all about peace, joy, giving, and caring for other people. That’s part of the magic for me, especially in a culture where we’ve become so commercialized and hooked into manufactured icons. Santa is much more organic, integral, connected to the past, and therefore connected to the future. I like that representation of Santa because I’m not a Coca-Cola Santa. I’m much more of a Santa of the woods, a Santa of the snow, a Santa of the solstice.”
“There’s a big difference between wearing the persona 24/7 and putting on a designer beard. You need to be present for kids all the time. If a child comes up to me and addresses me as Santa, I need to be Santa for that child–even if it’s July. That’s very important–you can’t just walk away and say, ‘Sorry, it’s not December.’ Many of my real-bearded brothers feel that responsibility. You take on a mantle, and you need to respect that, and you need to treat it with dignity.”
“Kids expect Santa to be nice to them, to be open to their needs, and to listen to them. There have been times I’ve had to go to a school and say, ‘I believe there’s a problem for this child, and I want to make sure [he or she] is taken care of.’ There was one instance where I was at a mall and a child came up to me, and I could tell he was troubled. So I asked him, ‘Is there something that’s troubling you that you want to tell Santa about?’ He said, ‘Kids push me down on the playground.’ It was heartbreaking. But it was great that he could let it out and that I could be there for that.” “A child [may] come up and say, ‘I want a dog.’ And the parent is saying, ‘No, no, no,’ over the child’s shoulder. In those cases, whether it’s an animal or a bicycle, I turn it into a talking point: ‘You need to talk to your parents about all the responsibilities that come with having something like this.’ It’s something the whole family needs to discuss and share. As Santa, I can’t just say, ‘Sure.’ There are realities, even in this fantasy.”
“Recently there’s been a big movement to make Santa not so fat … a healthy Santa. Still a bowl full of jelly, just a little less plump. It just means fewer cookies.”
“Doing this has re-affirmed that I’m a positive person. There aren’t many people who can say, ‘I’m okay representing a fictitious character.’ I’m good with playing Santa. I embrace it.”