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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Nov. 21, 2014

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In Holiday Guide

Jeff Pockat has been a mall Santa for five years and never forgets to make sure both his hands are showing in the picture.

Life of a mall Santa is no sleigh ride

This is a story about Santa.

Not the Santa, but a Santa.

This is not the Santa who lives in the North Pole and ate the cookies you left out when you were a kid.

No, this is a different Santa. A real Santa.

This Santa spends 10-and-a-half months out of the year living in Appleton where he helps run a hardware store, and the rest sleeping at a hotel a short drive from Mayfair Mall where he spends 12 hours a day figuring out how to tell your kids they can't have a giraffe this year.

This Santa's name is Jeff Pockat and he was nice enough to sit down for an interview in his cluttered basement break room to talk about the life of a mall Santa. He takes a seat and hands me his card and a copy of Gaelic harp Christmas CD "Christ in Christmas."

Jeff has a real, full beard and big rosy cheeks and in his red velvet pants and button-up white shirt he looks as if he's just crawled off a holiday Coca-Cola can. In fact, He looks so similar to the iconic Santa that if his "elf" hadn't just tucked a cigarette behind his ear and run off to the food court to buy him a roast beef sandwich he could have fooled me.

Jeff Pockat: Sorry about the mess. We pretty much live down here for a month-and-a-half. How long have you been doing this for?

JP: This is my fifth season doing this as a mall Santa. I did it years ago up in Wausau. I did a couple of seasons as a real bearded Santa up there for the downtown businessman and that was fun and then I got away from it. Some people were bugging me about doing it again.

OMC: How long have you had a beard?

JP: I shaved for two weeks in '81 and decided I didn't like shaving. So I just let it grow right back and it's been ever since. I used to keep mine trimmed rather close, but now the past few years I've been letting it get real long. It gets about an inch longer every year I think.

Of course if I let it go it's just sort of a muddy gray, so I have to bleach it.

OMC: How did you get into it the first time?

JP: I come from Appleton. Santa Russ up there was the first person to say something to me. He said, "You need to do this." That was about 10 years ago or so. I thought about it but I never pursued it. A guy that comes into the store that I work at was the one that pushed me and my wife's best friend Vicky. Those were the two people who pushed me into really doing it, and plus I like the thought, too.

So the first year I did it I had gotten a hold of the Santa at Fox River Mall, and he gave me the number of his agent. Well, I talked to John Arthur and then my brother got extremely sick with cancer and I just kind of put everything on the back burner. My brother ended up dying in October of that year. Right after the funeral I got contacted by Cherry Hill Photo ... they needed a Santa out in Eastern Pennsylvania so they flew me out there and put me up.

I did my first season out there in eastern Pennsylvania. There were certain things I didn't like about the way Cherry Hill did things so when I got back right at the first of the year I started my dialogue again with John Arthur as my agent. He got me trained in Minneapolis at a Santa School Tim Conway from California put on.

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sleonard | Dec. 26, 2011 at 2:25 p.m. (report)

Re: "Life of a mall Santa is no sleigh ride" ... Enjoyed reading the story about my husband's successor at Mayfair Mall! My husband, Mark Leonard, was the Santa at Mayfair Mall for seven years. You may be interested in knowing that he is the Santa whose TRUE STORY "Santa's Christmas Miracle" while working as the Mayfair Mall Santa in 1997 went viral for several years on the internet. If you're interested, it is posted here: Thanks, Susan Leonard

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shorewood | Dec. 17, 2010 at 2:33 p.m. (report)

Neat idea for a story! I enjoyed reading this.

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