The beard is real
And so is 'Santa's' connection to children
By Lynn R. Parks
Christopher DuBree had his doubts. So he gave Santa's beard a pull,
just to see what would happen.
And Santa retaliated.
"If you pull on my beard, then I pull your hair," said Santa, alias
David Hockenberry, Seaford. Speechless, Christopher, 8, went back
to his mother.
But his sister still was not sure. "How many elves do you have?"
asked Alex, 7.
"I'm not sure," said Santa. "I lost a couple, but then I got a couple
"How many reindeer do you have?"
"Nine. Can you name them?" And in a hurry, like a father calling
his children in from outside: RudolphDasherDancerPrancerVixen CometCupidDonderBlitzen.
"Does that feel like a pillow to you?" asked Santa, poking himself
in the stomach. "Is that beard fake? Then what is not real about
Grinning, almost jumping up and down, Alex accepted a candy cane
from Santa's green velvet bag and a business card, red and white
and bearing a telephone number. "Give me a call," he said. "That
is a local exchange, but all calls are transferred to the North
Soon, Christopher was back. "I'm sorry," he said. He too left with
a candy cane and a business card.
"Most kids want to believe," said Hockenberry, who was visiting
with families at Sal's restaurant in the Seaford Village shopping
center. "When they pull my beard, most of the time adults have put
them up to it."
It is not just the suit
Hockenberry, 51, has been playing Santa Claus for nine Christmases.
Or rather, "I don't play Santa," he says. "I become Santa."
The stomach is real; Hockenberry weighs 280 pounds and his waist
is "50 inches plus."
The beard also is real, but is not naturally white. Hockenberry
has a standing appointment with his hairdresser for the Saturday
after Thanksgiving for a bleach job, eyebrows included, that takes
up to four hours.
The suit is red velvet, trimmed in imitation white fox fur. The
belt, four inches wide, is leather and the belt buckle,
bearing the initials SC, is silver, plated with nickel and chrome.
The glasses are round.
"When I put on the suit, I feel like Santa," said Hockenberry. "I
believe it. It feels like [the change] happens on its own. It happens
for a reason."
But it's not just the red velvet. "When I am not in the suit, I am
still recognized," he said. Dressed in his work clothes - jeans, a
red long-sleeved shirt and suspenders that "just happen to have pictures
of me on them" - he is approached by children who want to tell him
they have been good. "I went to Disneyworld last year and I had on
a short-sleeved shirt, shorts and a red golf cap," Hockenberry said.
"Every time I stood still, I had a line of kids. I signed more autographs
than [Mickey Mouse]."
Patience of a saint
Hockenberry grew up in Lockhaven, Pa., and attended Lockhaven State
University, where he studied psychology. After working as a bartender
for a while, he came to Seaford, where he got a job with Fluor Daniel
Construction Co. He is warehouse supervisor at the DuPont plant site.
His wife Margaret "Peggy" works for a printing company in New Jersey.
During the Christmas season, Hockenberry as Santa puts in up to 10
hours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, between two and four hours
on weekdays. He visits restaurants, beauty parlors, offices and private
"I refuse to do a mall," he said. "You just don't get the time to
spend with the kids. Here I can sit and kids get to interact with
Santa. I think it makes all the difference in the world."
Hockenberry said that at one private party, he spent two hours on
a porch- "And it was cold"- convincing a little girl that he was nothing
to be scared of. By the end of the party, she was sitting on his lap,
reading a Dr. Seuss book to him.
"Her mother came out and said, 'You have the patience of a saint.'
'Yes, I do,' I told her."
And in return, Hockenberry asks for nothing.
"I don't charge a dime," he said. "I will accept donations toward
the costs of gasoline and candy canes. I buy 1,800 candy canes each
Part of childhood
Veronica Miller, 6, who was visiting with Santa at Sal's, was happy
to get a candy cane. But she was even happier to get a chance to talk
with Santa, to ask him about the magic dust he has to temporarily
put out fires in fireplaces and the magic feed he has to summon reindeer.
And to tell him about friends she has who say Santa is not real. "I
tell them that if they don't believe in Santa, they won't get any
presents," she said.
Hockenberry did not confirm that. But he did tell her, "If you don't
believe that Santa Claus is real, you are missing out on a whole part
of your childhood."
"When you stop believing in Santa Claus, you stop believing in a lot
of things," he said later. "You lose your childhood, and childhood
is too short."
Hockenberry has no plans to hang up his velvet suit. Every year, he
makes improvements to his outfit and now he is looking for a pair
of leather slouch boots, "extra wide," to replace the work boots he
"I look forward to this season all year long," he said. "The rest
of the year, I am just a construction worker.
"My wife and I don't have any kids," he added. "But I have all the
kids in the world. I have been Father Christmas."