There’s no telling how many Lakewood family Christmas cards have featured Scott Wilson’s mug.
Every year, he dons a white beard and red velvet suit and plays the part of Santa Claus at Lakewood Shopping Center’s “Light Up Lakewood” event. Last year, no less than 200 kids sat on Wilson’s lap and told him what they wanted for Christmas while parents snapped away on their cameras.
“If you’ve heard one Gameboy, you’ve heard it 20 times, and all the little girls want dolls,” Wilson says. “I look over to the dads and say, ‘Are you writing this down?’ I thought that what this little Santa Claus charade was for — so we could figure out what their kids want for Christmas.”
Wilson’s Santa philosophy might sound a bit curmudgeonly (“I don’t do the ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ — I don’t have that kind of voice,” he says), but the children absolutely love him, says Talulah Belle owner Elizabeth Mast.
“He’s kind-of that crabby old man if you don’t know him, but when you get to know him, he’s a big kid at heart,” she says. “He just relates to children like you would not believe.”
Mast recruited Wilson for the role four years ago when the shopping center tenants decided to hold their first client appreciation event. She met him when she moved into her house on Tremont.
“He kind of came with the house when I bought it. He lived in the back house for nine years,” Mast says.
When Mast married and moved to Swiss Avenue, Wilson moved into the garage apartment. (“It’s like a situation comedy, if you know what I mean,” Wilson jokes.) He’s basically assumed the role of the neighborhood handyman, Mast says, and he also does quite a bit of painting and remodeling of the Lakewood Shopping Center stores.
That’s how 4-year-old Carolyn, the granddaughter of Bebe Grand owner Susan O’Neil, came to know Wilson as “fix-it Scott.” She also knows that he plays Santa Claus, and his dual personality is a bit troubling to her young mind. In fact, she’s asked him to step down from the position.
“She’ll have to get over it,” Wilson laughs. “They’re trying to clue her in that I’m just Santa Claus’s helper. I’m taking on jobs that he’s too busy to get to.”
And Carolyn’s not the only one who’s a little nervous around Wilson. Younger children in general approach him with fear and trepidation.
“Santa Claus kind of freaks them out,” Wilson says. “You can tell when they’re walking up there if they’re going to get on Santa’s lap or not. The tighter the grip on daddy’s neck …”
Just like everything else at Light Up Lakewood, photos with Santa Claus are free (just bring your own camera). Each of the stores on the strip offer holiday specials and complimentary hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. Papou’s is planning to bring back the belly dancers, and Professional Bank will be offering horse-drawn carriage rides (for a nominal fee) and feature the Woodrow Wilson High School carolers. Talulah Belle and Bebe Grand also will be teaming up to hold a petting zoo and face painting.
The entire evening is a festive way to kick off the holiday season, but the highlight of the night depends on whom you ask. For Wilson, after three straight hours of baking in a Santa suit and holding hundreds of children, the answer is easy:
Light Up Lakewood
When: Friday, Dec. 1, 6-9 p.m.; tree lighting at 7 p.m.
Where: Lakewood Shopping Center, Prospect and Abrams
Cost: Free; small fees for carriage rides and valet parking
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