Get to know: John Hughes

Published 11:09 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2011

John Hughes

Santa’s helper in Suffolk

One Christmas season not that many years ago, a friend of John Hughes had a problem with his three sons, one that many parents would recognize.

“My kids don’t believe in Santa anymore,” he told Hughes. “Would you visit them and talk to them?”

Hughes agreed, and a few days later, he knocked on the door of the family’s home.

Email newsletter signup

The three boys stared in disbelief at the man standing in their doorway. Even without his signature red suit, they knew exactly who it was.

His brilliantly white beard, jolly smile and wire-rimmed glasses said it all.

“I hear you boys don’t believe in me anymore,” he said.

The boys stared back, looking ashamed for their doubts about St. Nick’s existence.

Hughes crouched down and asked the two youngest boys what they would think about him if he told them exactly what they wanted for Christmas.

Eyes wide, the boys quickly put away their skepticism when Hughes told them the gifts they were hoping for. But the oldest son wasn’t budging.

“What do you think I want?” the boy asked.

Hughes turned to him: “I hear you want an iPod. I think I can do that.”

The boy’s jaw dropped.

Recalling the occasion today, Hughes smiles.

“They believe now,” he says.

Not just anyone could convince such a chary group of young “experts” to put their faith back in Santa. But it’s something Hughes has been doing for years.

John Hughes radiates the aura of Santa Claus.

Children gawk in wonder even in the summer, when they see him wearing flip-flops and tattered shorts, convinced they’ve spied Santa on vacation.

“I tell them I’m checking on them,” he says with a wink.

Even before his beard (which he’s had for almost 40 years) turned white, Hughes’ friends had nicknamed him “Santa.”

But the persona goes deeper than just the look. It’s also about Hughes’ jolly demeanor, the twinkle in his eye and his way with children.

“I just love kids,” he says. “Seeing them smile makes you melt. You just can’t describe it.”

Decked out in his classic red suit and hat, Hughes visits children throughout the area to hear their Christmas dreams and keep Santa’s spirit alive, easing the seasonal workload for the real Santa.

One of his favorite things to do is visit children at Christmas parties, because he gets to spend individual time with all of the kids. When Santa arrives at the door, he says, most children stare in disbelief and amazement.

“They are a little scared and a bit shy,” Hughes says.

Still, it doesn’t take most children long to catch on and start making Christmas requests. After nine years of taking orders for Santa, Hughes says, he’s heard every request in the book.

“It’s whatever is big that year,” he says. “Recently, a lot of kids want iPods.”

But the children usually have more on their minds than Christmas presents when Hughes shows up as Santa.

“You never know what they are going to ask,” he says.

Can we see Rudolph? How do you get in my house if my chimney is too small? How did you get here if there isn’t snow?

Here’s a little secret: When it isn’t snowing, Hughes says, Santa just takes his car. And he can show children his Santa Claus driver’s license to prove it.

“They believe then,” Hughes says.

His look, his attitude, his answers — everything Hughes does is designed to keep kids believing in the guy who does his work once a year on Christmas Eve.

He even lets them tug his beard to double-check.

“It helps them believe a little longer,” Hughes said. “It just makes my day to make the kids so happy. If you spend time with a child, that’s all it takes to show them you are Santa Claus.”