View from the Sleigh: A Day in the Life of an East Hampton Man with Two Wives

Rudolph leads Santa’s sleigh!
Rudolph leads Santa’s sleigh! Photo: Jennifer Meihofer

On the first Saturday in December every year, East Hampton Village holds a parade for Santa Claus as he makes his pre-Christmas visit to scope the place out. He appears on the grounds of the big white Presbyterian Church, on Main Street, atop his beautiful red-and-white sleigh with his wife, Mrs. Claus. A team of eight full-size reindeer rest up from the long flight in front of him.

Out on the street in front of the church, the parade of fire trucks, marching bands, farmers’ tractors, sugar plum fairies and toy soldiers glides by, heading east toward the center of town. And after everyone goes by the church, Mr. Claus cracks his whip—well, if he had brought one (which he hasn’t) he’d crack it—and with that the reindeer—eight strong young people in zip-up reindeer suits—get in line and pull on the sleigh, and take it out into the street. Up top, Mr. and Mrs. Claus wave happily to the crowd lining the sidewalks. The parade heads off to the center of town, turns left at the Newtown Lane traffic light and winds up at the East Hampton YMCA on Lumber Lane, where everybody takes off costumes and gets picked up by friends and family to be driven home.

An hour before the parade, I, the founder and longtime editor of Dan’s Papers, sit, having breakfast and coffee with my wife. But then, a half-hour before the parade, now dressed as Santa Claus, I go down to the Presbyterian Church and climb up the side of the sleigh to sit with my wife, my other wife, to await the signal to head off onto Main Street. Behind us in that sleigh, there are four elves who operate an air-blowing machine that blows potato flakes down a tube and out and up in front of me and my wife to create what appear to be snowflakes around us.

Clark Kent transforming into Superman does not have it so good. He’s a lonely man, too shy to chase Lois Lane and too busy, as Superman, to give Lois the time of day. I’m a lucky man. Two wives for me, and neither knows about the other.

And I guess Santa Claus, the real Santa Claus, who knighted me over six years ago to dress up as him and perform his duties so he can continue to get ready at the North Pole for the big day, is lucky, too. I file a report to him when the parade is over, just before I go back to being Dan Rattiner. So he gets a complete overview of East Hampton. Here is this year’s report:

Dear Mr. C.,

They gave us a really big welcome this year. The weather was sunny and brisk, the floats were wonderful, and though the runners of the sleigh got caught up on the center island as we turned onto Newtown Lane, it was only because I was so happy and distracted to see everyone, or I should say they were so happy to see you, ha, that I did not guide the reindeer correctly around that turn. We did get off without damage, I am here to report. And there was no need to file an accident form with the authorities.

The children along the side of the road were, as usual, overcome with either joy or amazement. A few little ones looked us over and shrunk back into their mothers’ skirts for protection. But as you know, that happens every year here. It’s the price you (I) pay for celebrity.

Once again this year, following your instructions, I’d wave, and if I found a happy child by the side of the road, I would make eye contact, smile and point directly at him or her as we went along. As you said, if this is good enough for entertainers or politicians who do this when they stride out onstage in front of a crowd, then it’s good enough for us. It’s kind of tacky, I think, but I’ve told you that and you say just keep doing it. Some kids burst into tears when pointed at. Others jump up and down.

At the end of the parade, in front of the YMCA, I stayed atop the sleigh for quite some time as parents handed up kids to me to interview and ask what they wanted. One boy was Kevin, about six.

I asked him, “What would you like for Christmas?” and he said, “Did you get my letter?”

That took me aback a bit, so I told him yes, but we have a big pile of them, and he said, “Well, when you get to mine you’ll see what I want.”

I was then taken by a policeman in a police van back down Newtown Lane—thank you for that, I would have had a trail of little kids behind me, if I had walked all that way—and soon came in the back door of Rowdy Hall, where they had that big throne set up. When I arrived, I was greeted by applause and cheers—all intended for you—and I smiled and waved and bowed to everyone, as you had shown me, and then sat down. In front of me was a big group of kids, accompanied by their parents, lined up out the front door, through the courtyard to the street. They stepped forward, one by one, and these little kids sat on my lap and told me what they wanted. Accompanying this letter is a small cassette tape of these children’s requests. This is the first time we’ve done this, and I think it will be a big help to you in order to match up the toys with each of the kids. High priorities were computers, Legos, dolls, iPads, video games and cell phones. The tape—you just slip it into the player we sent earlier—will speak for itself.

I had a great many candy canes in a bucket on the floor by my throne at Rowdy Hall and, as instructed, dutifully gave one to each kid who approached and sat. We had about
70 of them between age 1 (a bantling) and 12 (a sixth grader), and I did my best. Again, everyone was overwhelmed to be near to you, sir, even though it was I, and they were either eager to sit, too frightened to sit, or feeling the situation out cautiously when invited to sit, waffled a bit and then, sometimes, just jumped up and gave me a big hug, thinking it was you.

I spent an hour there to make sure every one of them got the individual and proper attention they deserved, and also a free candy cane. Sometimes, with some of the more reluctant kids, the candy was an icebreaker. Anyway, many ho ho ho’s were emitted during this performance.

When everyone had seen me, talked to me, climbed up on me, had photos taken of me, told me what they wanted and left, I myself, after being thanked by the staff of Rowdy Hall, picked up the remaining candy canes and, as I walked back to where I, as Dan Rattiner, had parked my Tahoe behind the church, handed out individual candy canes to strollers heading toward me on the sidewalk. They included two older men, a woman, and the two traffic police officers at the street crossing, and all thanked me (you), very much.

Your obedient friend and servant, Santa Claus #52,350.

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