2004_12_margekramer_large.jpgMarge Kramer has not always been Santa's Elf; she took the job this season and has been working in a Connecticut Santa booth at the height of the holiday season. She's a longtime social worker, lifelong Jew, part-time camp counselor, and, most importantly, my mom. I've been privy to emails saying things like "Santa's really a nice guy." On Christmas Eve, I wanted to share a little insider holiday scoop with you all about the inner workings of Santa's workshop. Happy Holidays everyone!

How did you acquire your present job as Santa's elf?
Ad in local paper.

What do your duties entail? Is there a "typical" day?
Lots of smiling - Getting kids comfortable with Santa; reassuring parents when their kids are afraid and crying; snapping photos (getting kids to smile or babies to have gas which mimics smiling); selling photo packages.

Are you seeing people come in incredibly stressed out as the holidays get nearer?
Mostly pressure for the kids to sit with Santa and smile on demand.

Please tell me a really great/funny/crazy story, a la David Sedaris's Santaland Diaries. How does your experience compare to his?
Haven't seen Santaland Diaries yet (have tickets for Dec. 26) - One man took me aside (thank goodness) and asked if he could take a photo pulling a gun on Santa as long as there were no kids around. "Never" was my response.

Do you have any advice or tricks of the trade you'd give to someone working in a Santa booth, whether as Santa or in another capacity?
Have or get a sense of humor; like kids; ability to deal with a range of personalities; good work ethic (hardest).

You told me that Santa made a "no kicking" rule-are there any other special rules you've had to come up with, or ones you'd like to see?
Had to institute a 3-snap rule, i.e. we'll take 3 photo ops max; parents choose from those. Wish parents would understand that Santa needs to feed his reindeer (and take a break). Wish management showed appreciation for the rigors of seasonal work.

How does working as Santa's elf compare to some of the other jobs you've had? Do you feel you're using your social worker training on the job?
This job entails dealing with a multiplicity of cultures and a cross section of people. Also, parents need a lot of reassurance when their kids do not perform as the parents wish. Many kids are freaked out by the "real" Santa and want to get as far away as possible - smiling is not on their agenda.

What's the best thing about the job?
Making people (especially kids) happy.

What's the most annoying thing about the job?
Seasonal disrespect; lack of management support.

What will you do after Christmas?
Get a massage.

I forget exactly what age I was when I found out Santa didn't exist. What age would you advise parents telling their kids, or should they let them find out on their own?
Wait until they ask.

You work in a suburban mall in Connecticut. How do you think Christmas is different in New York City versus the suburbs?
New England parents seem to be patient; they wait in line and do not begrudge time spent on other people's children. I wonder about the patience quotient for New York parents. I, also, question whether some New York parents would be unduly disappointed in the child who does not comply with his/her parents' wishes for a smile or a seat on Santa's lap.

You're married to a rabbi and are yourself Jewish - how does that play into working as Santa's elf? Does it make you feel weird or sacrilegious?
Not at all - I was curious since having photos with Santa is not part of my cultural heritage.

Do you think that Christmas has become secularized since it's such a commercial holiday or does it still retain a religious element? What do you think about Jews who want to celebrate Christmas (or vice versa)?
I hope that Jews who celebrate Xmas put an equal amount of emotional intensity into celebrating Chanukah and Kwanza, too. Otherwise, it's none of my business.

How has Christmas as a holiday/phenomenon changed since you were growing up?
Starts earlier; costs more.

If you were to ask Santa for something for the holidays, what would it be?
To keep my husband from going to Iraq and a raise for my daughter.

Anything to add?
Wishes for a pressure-free holiday season for all, especially the kids.