Richard Cockrell has been Santa Claus for six years. Cockrell’s work truly starts after Thanksgiving, which is when he begins spreading joy by listening to children’s Christmas wishes at Von Maur at The Meadows in Lake St. Louis on Saturday and Sundays. However, the holiday season is not the only time he transforms into Saint Nick – Cockrell plays Santa all year long. Throughout the offseason, with his real beard, long hair and jolly attitude, Cockrell waves to children as the school bus stops in front of his house, and he carries “I met Santa” stickers with him wherever he goes. Cockrell, who loves spreading the Christmas spirit, says that he wishes his days playing the role of Santa Claus could have started sooner.

What is it like being Santa?

Oh my, let me tell you, I have never been a happier man in my life: the joy and look of wonder in these children's faces, to see the magic in their eyes. And it’s not just children; it’s also older adults too, to see them be young again even for a couple minutes – you can’t describe the feeling. What they give Santa back is just more than what I give them.

What are some of your favorite memories while being Santa?

I had an autistic boy whose parents had been bringing him to see me for the last three years, and those three years he didn’t want anything to do with Santa. But last year he walked up and was in line. He came running up to me and gave me a hug. His parents were just dumbfounded – he had never run up to anybody before, let alone Santa, and actually hug them. I tell you what, those parents and Santa were crying. Also, what children ask for is very hard sometimes. It’s kids asking, “Why is my daddy overseas and not coming home? Can you bring him home?” Some of those things are heart breaking. All you can say is “I have been praying for peace my whole life, I will see what I can do, but no promises.” I have children who will ask “I don’t want anything for me, but I know a child at school that is having a hard time, do you think you can give an extra present?” You’d be surprised how many children actually do that. I don’t think children get enough credit on what they think and feel.

Have you noticed any trends throughout the years – either with presents or attitude toward Santa?

As far as gifts, it’s more and more electronics every year. iPad, iPhone and computers, more and more children are wanting them. As far as children believing, I haven’t really seen change. Eight is the cutoff point, and then they don’t believe as much as they did before. But if you are a good Santa, you can give that back to those children for a couple minutes, where they are wondering once again. There are times I come home after a long day and I am so tired but I am so satisfied and happy with how the day has gone. I think children are young adults that just haven’t realized it yet, they are a lot smarter than adults give them credit for. Children are very loving a giving people, and plus they still have the wonder and belief in magic that adults have lost. And I think my job as Santa is to help nurture that wonder and keep it as long as they possibly can. I know my sense of wonder has come back tenfold since I have started doing this.

How do you handle kids questioning Santa’s existence?

I get that all the time, especially the older ones. Thankfully, I am a real-bearded Santa and that helps my cause. There are kids that will ask me if I am a real Santa and I will tell them, “You know what, there are a lot of Santas out there that are helpers but there is only one real Santa –now you have to figure out which is the real one.” And they will come up and ask to touch my beard, and I’ll say “Sure, you can even pull on it if you want,” and they will come up and tug on my beard and I’ll go “Oh, ho ho” and laugh. It’s the little things too, like all children have trouble picking up after themselves, so I’ll tell them “I understand from one of my elves that you are having a little trouble picking your toys up, can you help your parents a little bit more with that?” And they’ll look at their mom and dad and say “He knows!” It’s the little things like that which bring the wonder back.

For more information on booking Richard Cockrell as Santa, visit West Model and Talent Management,