We interviewed Kris Kringle at his home at his request. He rarely goes out, because he looks a lot like his son, only older, and that only makes it complicated for his son to do what he does and he does not want that. Kris has hired help, local people, who take care of his needs, shopping, keeping house, etc., etc. And they have been sworn to secrecy about the exact location in Sagaponack where he and his wife, Katrinka, live because the media would love to know he is in the Hamptons, and that would make things still worse for his son.
“I trust Dan’s Papers,” Kris said when I spoke to him over the phone and he invited me over for a drink.
“I read you all the time. Just don’t write where we live. Is dat okay?”
Kris still speaks English with the Dutch accent.
“Of course it’s okay,” I said. “Cross my heart and hope to die if I say anything.”
I have no idea why I said that.
The Kringle home is not much different than any of the other homes in Sagaponack—that is, it is a grand and gracious mansion with a dozen bedrooms or more, sitting on five or six acres. I parked in the driveway near to the front door and knocked. A servant girl in a Dutch peasant costume—a local woman I happen to know who used to work in the library—opened the door and let me in with a smile, then led me through the living room and the dining room. We passed the kitchen, in which I saw half a dozen elves busily working. Then we went down a few steps and out toward the pool, which, this time of year, is enclosed under a glass dome. Kringle was sitting on a lounge chair by the pool.
“Ahoy there!” he shouted, raising a drink with a little umbrella in it at me. I walked around the chair so I could get to where he could see me.
“Thank you so much for letting me come visit you,” I said.
“Iss notting,” he said, waving his drink. “Have a seat. Vould you like a drink?”
An elf appeared. He looked at me. I looked at him.
“I’ll have a Diet Coke,” I said. Then I sat down in an adjacent lounge chair.
“Make him a RUM and Diet Coke,” Kringle said to the elf. Then he turned to me.
“Did you ever see such a nice glass dome?” he asked, waving his drink again.
I said I had not.
“Slides back to open to the sky at the press of a button. Like the Superbowl. Vott a nice young man my son has turned out to be. I get all dese great Christmas presents.”
“Do you open it on sunny days in the wintertime?”
“Ve open it summer, vinter, spring und fall. Venever it’s sunny. It’s not sunny today, though.”
“No it isn’t,” I said. I looked around. “I noticed when I went through the house that there are elves all over the place.”
“When I came to America, I brought my faithful elves with me. I could not leave them behind.”
“How many are there?”
“Let’s see. There’s Hans, Heidi, Vladimir, Wilhelm, oh, I think there are 22 all together, and their wives and husbands of course.”
“And they all live here in this house?”
“Oh yes. And they still make presents just like in the old days in Holland. They have a workshop out back. And for the month before Christmas they are working, working, working, now not for me anymore but for my son. He has the main gang of elves at the North Pole, of course. We’re just a small adjunct, as you say. But we keep busy. Some of them make lunch for everybody. You are staying for lunch, you know.”
“That would be wonderful,” I said.
“You’ve provided me so much pleasurable reading over the years. It’s the least I could do.”
“How long have you been here?”
“We came over from Holland about, oh, I don’t know, in a big ship, a long time ago. When my son started up with all the flying around and the going down the chimneys. I gave him such a hard time about it at first. But then, when it was such an immediate success, he bought me this place. America’s the greatest country on earth and the Hamptons is the most beautiful spot in America. I love it here. I like the old country, of course. But there are so many troubles and all there.”
“Like when they assassinated the Archduke Ferdinand in Serbia. I think that is what did it for me. So we came here.”
“Do you go to the beach?”
“Once in awhile. I sort of live in this bathing suit, so it’s no big deal. I just bike down. Put on an ‘American’ shirt, one of those Hawaiian things, so I fit in. Nobody sees me in my old Kris Kringle clothes. As I said, I really don’t want people to know it’s me. And I’m retired now, of course.”
“Did anyone take your place giving out presents to the kids in Europe?”
“My wonderful son did that.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I would deliver the presents by horse and wagon. It was hard, slow work. We’d deliver the presents to the people of Europe over a four-month period beginning in August, and they had to hide the presents away so their kids wouldn’t see them until the right time. It was a tough system, but it worked.”
“Wouldn’t the kids see all the gift wrapping of the presents in the back of the wagon?”
“Of course not. We kept a tarpaulin over it. Kept them dry too, in the rain. People were so appreciative of what I did back then. It was wonderful for me. And I guess it was wonderful for them.”
“Had you always been doing that?”
“Heavens no. Originally I was a dentist. I had an office in Amsterdam and a townhouse. I was a very successful dentist. But then, I decided to give back. So I did that.”
“How did you decide to be somebody who gave away presents?”
“It just came to me. Nobody else was doing it. It made the kids of Europe happy. It got them fully focused on Christmas, the birthday of the son of our Lord. It was a big success.”
“How many years ago did you start doing that?”
“Oh, centuries. I can’t even count them. I started during the papacy of Pope Julius I. You could look it up.”
“And then your son took over?”
“No, Santa had his own ideas. He was always a precocious little child. You could never keep him still. He got this cockamamie idea that he’d get some reindeer, train them to fly, then go out late at night on Christmas Eve and go all over the world, except for Europe, of course, because that was my beat, and deliver gifts for Christmas that way. He built a headquarters up at the North Pole. Have you been up there?”
“Amazing place, just amazing what he’s done. So he’s flying around and I’m going along on these bumpy roads with my horse and after awhile he said, Dad, why don’t you retire? I could take over Europe. With my new way of doing things, well, you get the idea.”
“Was it an easy transition?”
“Well, I have to say, we had really been so hard on Santa when he first started. Katrina especially thought flying was so dangerous, especially at night, and at that time of year, with all that snow, it, it just seemed so crazy.”
An elf appeared with my drink, and also a fresh drink for Kringle. He disappeared with Kringle’s old finished drink.
“But you know, he did this, and it all worked. I have no idea how he does it. It just seems so crazy, don’t you think? Flying around like that? Well, I thought about it and I talked to my wife, and it didn’t take long for us to decide that he should buy out our business and take over Europe, and so that’s what he did.”
Kris waved his new drink around.
“And then you know what he did? You can see it all around you. He is such a guy, my son. What a great guy. I really have to hand it to him.”
“I certainly agree with that,” I said. “You showed him the way, and then he just made it all around the world. Amazing.”
I listened. It wasn’t far away, but now I heard it, the sound of a horn, a ram’s horn.
“Lunch is served,” Kringle said. He stood up, stretched and scratched his belly with his free hand. “Christmas pudding,” he said, sniffing the air.
“I hope you like it. And I smell goose and potatoes and pumpkin pie. This way.”
And he led me off to the dining room and one of the most wonderful meals I ever ate.