"I’ve got to smile all day, even when I want to walk off the set. The children are what’s most important."
Rafael Brusilow for metro toronto
Most kids dream of meeting Santa Claus and Bob Lewis loves to make those dreams come true.
Lewis, 65, has spent the last five holiday seasons playing Santa and this year Yorkdale Shopping Centre is his North Pole. A Hamilton native who radiates kindness and warmth, Lewis spent 35 years working in a steel mill for Dofasco and just as much time volunteering as a scout leader. When he’s not decked out in his Santa garb, Lewis currently works as a crossing guard during the year.
“I’ve always enjoyed being with kids. They’re fun to be with and you get to see what they grow up into. That’s the best part,” Lewis said.
Lewis’ natural grey beard makes him a shoe-in to play Santa, and the gig is his favourite because kids love it and in his experience the story of Santa crosses all cultural boundaries.
“Santa Claus represents the wise man bringing gifts to other people — and most people relate to that. They may call him by different names, but the kids still know what Santa is,” Lewis said.
Lewis says kids have asked for all kinds of things on Santa’s lap (one boy even asked for a stove once) but for the most part thoughts of presents tend to take a back seat to just enjoying Santa’s company.
Of course, things don’t always go easily on a shift and even Santa can have his troubles — Lewis has been punched in the groin by unruly kids and once got a split lip when a little tyke reared his head back and unwittingly clocked Santa right in the kisser. A few humbugs like those don’t faze Lewis though — he just shakes it off by staying in character and remembering that he’s there to set an example.
“I’ve got to smile all day, even when I want to walk off the set. The children are what’s most important,” he said.
When kids misbehave, rather than putting them on the naughty list Lewis uses the moment as a chance to teach a few life lessons.
“You still impress on the kids’ good behaviour and good habits; you’re instilling in them a sense of how to act,” Lewis said.
Other unusual experiences have ranged from the weird to the risqué: one time, two young women clad only in lingerie asked to be photographed with him, but he politely informed them he didn’t think Santa would approve. After all, their attire seemed inadequate for the frigid weather.
As he walks to his Yorkdale set fully costumed, kids and adults alike recognize him and Lewis greets them with his best piece of advice:
“You be good now!”