This way, if a child questions his identity, he’s got plenty of documentation.
“I show them my driver’s license, credit card and insurance cards,” said Claus, 61. “Now, I have proof that I am who I say I am. All of a sudden, it becomes more magical.”
Although he is reluctant to mention it, Claus’s original name was Frank Pascuzzi, and he lives in Copiague, N.Y. He worked for five years in the early 2000s as a Santa Claus at Macy’s in Manhattan — the same Macy’s of “Miracle on 34th Street” fame. Claus, who has two adult sons and two adult daughters, loved the experience so much that he continued to play the Santa role at community and private events.
And then, he made it official on a day in a courtroom reminiscent of the 1947 Christmas movie classic. He went to court to sign papers after a background check. The process took more than three hours, but after the judge said yes, it became official: Frank Pascuzzi was now Santa Claus.
The judge and court officials may have had their own opinions, but they accepted his petition without protest. The judge gave him a hug and said he made her year, Claus said.
He set up a Facebook page, and to prove that he was legitimate and not perpetuating a false identity, Claus had to send Facebook his court papers. His page has more than 31,000 followers.
Claus pours his heart and identity into his Father Christmas role and goes as far as he can with it. He doesn’t have flying reindeer or chimney-sliding magic, but he does have the natural white beard and a red Santa suit he wears on duty. When you call Claus’s cellphone, the song “Here Comes Santa Claus” plays to entertain the waiting caller as the line rings.
Claus even bought a sleigh, originally used as a horse-drawn carriage in New York City’s Central Park, from eBay recently and had it refurbished.
“When you … have a child, they want to know, and they want to believe,” he said. “If they see me pulling up in a truck, then they automatically think I’m not Santa Claus, because I don’t have a sleigh.”
His commitment to the magic of Santa might stem from Claus’s own childhood, when Christmas wasn’t the most wonderful time of the year, he said. Claus said he believed that his parents, not Santa, delivered the gifts — and the presents were sometimes lackluster, like a box of wrapped items from young Frank’s junk drawer.
In his 20s, the future Santa Claus had an encounter that changed his perspective. One of his children wanted a Power Ranger action figure, but he couldn’t find one. But on Christmas Eve, he encountered a white-bearded man in a red flannel shirt at a toy store. The man went into the back of the store, returned with a Power Ranger and said, “I saved this for you.” Claus, who never saw the man again, gets choked up when he shares that memory.
Claus has become a well-known figure in the New York City and Long Island region, where he often attends charity functions for organizations such as Toys for Tots and gets regular hugs from strangers.
He takes pride in making kids believe in the story of the North Pole and Santa’s elves.
Danielle Bonsignore hired Claus for her annual family Christmas party several years ago. Her kids wholeheartedly believed he was the real Santa, she said, and in a way, her tween and teen kids still do because of that experience.
It helped that he walked in bearing gifts for the kids that the parents had secretly bought, Bonsignore said. He also made a video message for the kids, telling them that if people say Santa isn’t real, don’t fight with them, and keep Santa in their hearts.
“He definitely has … totally encompassed the whole persona of Santa,” said Bonsignore, director of Just Kids Early Childhood Learning Center in Lindenhurst, N.Y. “I think that’s amazing.”
The only people who still call Claus by his former name are his wife and father, who call him Frank. Then there are his kids, who just call him Dad.
“Most of my friends call me Santa,” Claus said. “Friends from high school say Frank but correct themselves.”
There is also a Mrs. Claus, sort of — but don’t call her that. Betty Pascuzzi, 61, kept her last name, and she plays a supporting, behind-the-scenes role in her husband’s Santa career and identity. Pascuzzi buys gifts and wraps them for various charities and helps to deliver them. The Mrs. Claus jokes get old, she said, but she takes them with humor and grace.
Pascuzzi, a Verizon employee and social worker, recalled the wacky experience of calling her benefits department to change her husband’s name for health-insurance purposes. She warned the representative that this wasn’t a joke, though it sure sounded like one. Then she calmly explained that her husband had changed his name to Santa Claus and that she could prove it with court papers if necessary.
Although her husband’s Santa shtick may be extreme, she sees the harmless charm in it and said it fits his larger-than-life personality.
“Well, you know, he’s a big person,” Pascuzzi said. “This is what he wanted to do. … He likes to do it all.”
She calls herself a “Christmas widow.”
“Like a football widow,” she said. “Because he’s gone a lot of the time. But we find time to do family things together.”
Their house on Long Island doesn’t look much different than any other house on the block this time of year: The family puts up some lights, but nothing too glitzy. How could Santa have time to decorate? Claus keeps an office in the garage that serves as the North Pole, and it is full of stockings, toys and Department 56 village pieces.
He has no regrets about changing his name, but he said it is sometimes a challenge when he gets angry. Santa Claus has a reputation of purity and goodness to uphold, so he cannot lose his temper or behave badly.
“People are always looking at me,” he said. “I’ve learned to be a better person.”
Sometimes people will wave and scream his name as Claus drives down the street.
“All of a sudden, I remember who I am,” he said. “Just me being me makes people happy, and that makes me happy.”
Staff researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.
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