PROVO Andy Baggs tugs sharply on his white beard to show Jack Setzer, 11, of Springville, that it isn't fake.
Jack is convinced. "He let me pull on his beard. And believe me, it is real," the boy says.
The No. 1 Santa at the North Pole is quite busy this time of year and so he needs helpers to fill in at malls and other events during the holiday season.
Baggs, 61, of Provo, is one of Santa's special helpers. Instead of asking kids all the things they want for Christmas, he talks to them about being nice and doing their chores.
"I want kids to look at giving and sharing and not worry about getting," Baggs says, emphasizing he wants to be called "Father Christmas" not "Santa Claus."
Parents can fill out a form so Father Christmas can talk to their child about specific discipline problems or encourage them to clean their room. An elf relays this secret information to Father Christmas via a two-way radio. Children rarely notice the earpiece.
Father Christmas has been doing this for about eight years.
"He just 'magically' knows the kids' names and everything about them," said Lee Ann Setzer, of Springville. She brought her children to see Baggs recently at Heindselman's Yarn, Needlework and Gifts, 176 W. Center St., Provo.
"He somehow knew I hadn't practiced my piano," Elizabeth Setzer, 8, said.
"I talk to the kids. I want to know what kids are doing, what is in their hearts," says Baggs, a school psychologist who works at Elk Ridge Middle School in Jordan School District.
As Father Christmas, Baggs has a lot of advice on holiday giving.
"I talk a great deal about service about taking care of Mom and Dad," he said. "If they are young, I tell them to give Mom and Dad a great big hug and a kiss. I tell them to bake a plate of cookies for the lady down the street or shovel her walk."
The undercover elf, who hovers out of sight and radios information to Baggs, is Ted Schofield, owner of Heindselman's.
"We have more fun doing this," Schofield said. He and Baggs are also Boy Scout leaders with Troop 999 in Provo.
Maleen Cazier, of Orem, brought her three daughters to see Father Christmas.
"I like the idea of not worrying so much about getting presents," Cazier said. "He is more about what you're doing for others and being kind to people and remembering what the season is for."
Her husband, Tyler Cazier, of Orem, agreed, saying his family wants to do things to celebrate Christmas without all the commercialism.
"We wanted to come out and see Father Christmas. Santa is too commercialized. He is too much a piece of this capitalistic society that we have," he said. "I like to have something that reminds me more of why I celebrate the season."
Father Christmas sits on a throne, which is really a chair wrapped with glittery gold material. Black cowboy boots peek out from under his black jeans. He dons a furry white-trimmed red robe that spills over his gold-colored cloth robe.
Ivory Cazier, 1 year and 9 months old, approaches Father Christmas hesitantly. He gently sits her on his knee.
Schofield, waiting in the wings, says through the radio, "Ivory likes snow ... and she likes being tickled."
Father Christmas tickles Ivory's tummy, and she bursts into giggles.
Schofield whispers, "She eats crayons."
Father Christmas says to Ivory, "Don't eat the crayons. You'll get a purple tongue."
Ivory's two sisters laugh as they watch.
June, 5, and Robyn, 3, are next.
Schofield relays, "June is a big helper. But she needs to keep her hands to herself. Robyn needs to work on her reading."
After their chat, Father Christmas gives each girl a candy cane and a pair of children's blunted-nosed scissors with brightly colored plastic handles."I always promise them they will get neat stuff for Christmas," he says. "But what's important is what you're doing for the people you love and who you associate with. Look outside yourself."
If you go...
Where: Heindselman's Yarn, Needlework and Gifts, 176 W. Center St., Provo
When: Today, 5-6 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 22, 2-6 p.m.
E-mail: [email protected]