Peter Boxall is Santa and his dad is too - meet the family that keeps Christmas alive
'When they leave your knee and they're smiling ... you know, 'That one I got''
Growing up with Santa for a father leaves a man with big boots to fill.
At first, Peter Jr. wasn't sure if a life of toys, reindeer and elves was for him. Then, a few years ago, his father announced he wasn't feeling well and thought it might be his last Christmas, so he wanted his children to accompany him to the Santa Claus Wintergames at Savalen, Norway.
Peter Jr. tagged along and while he was there, tried on the red coat for the first time.
That's how he caught what his dad describes as "the Santa bug."
There's magic to a Santa suit — pull it on and you have the ability to inspire people to believe.
Watch Santa get ready for Christmas
Peter Jr. came back determined to be the best Santa he could be. He picked out a suit and beard, but quickly realized the lessons his father taught him growing up were the key to bringing St. Nick to life — respect others and do what you can to make them happy.
"You have to love everybody because we don't just see children, we see adults," he explained. "We see elderly people, we see handicapped people, so we have to love everybody and it really comes from our heart."
Meet The Santa Family
The Burlington family's last name is Boxall — as in what the big guy asks the elves do with all the toys they make — but during the holidays they go by another label, The Santa Family.
That title covers an elf, two Mrs. Clauses and two Santas, Peter Boxall Sr. and Jr., who offer a combined 40 years of experience.
In that time they've seen it all, from tiny tots that won't stop screaming to tough questions from kids going through hard times.
"You gotta love children," says Peter Sr. who, with a big busy white beard and natural twinkle in his eye, seems born to play the part. "Santa Claus is all about children and if you don't love them it's gonna be the longest day in the year."
Taking on tough questions to help kids believe
Sometimes that love means listening to difficult stories from children. Both Santas say they've encountered kids whose only wish is to have their parents come home for the holidays.
Peter Jr. recalled a little girl whose grandparents quietly handed him a list of topics not to mention as she climbed on his lap.
"I didn't need to know the reason, but I had to make sure that I could do that so I could get the child to believe again and make her happy," he said. "You run across everything when you're sitting in that chair."
"You never know," his father agreed. "When the next one walks up, it's really exciting just to listen to them."
After more than 30 years in the iconic red suit the 86-year-old still pulls it on every holiday season, just to see the look of wonder on people's faces.
"When we have the Santa suit on, it gives us a lot of freedom to talk to people you normally wouldn't talk to and they're so receptive."
A modern take on tradition
At 51, Peter Jr. is still spry, for a Santa, and has a few new tools to his workshop that set him apart. He sprays sparkles, like snow, in his beard and dabs blush on his cheeks to make sure they're sufficiently rosy.
As a modern Santa he's also embraced technology to keep kids on their toes, including two-way radios his elf will use to feed him information from a child's parents that inspires their sense of wonder.
The Boxalls take being Santa seriously. They regularly attend the Charles W. Howard Santa School in Midland, Mich. and have travelled around the world to places like Japan and the Annual World Santa Claus Congress in Denmark where Peter Jr. is a three-time champion on the obstacle course.
"It's good to be Santa. It's the best position you could ever have," says Peter Sr. "Every day is joyful. It's just interfacing with children that makes ... everyone feel happy. When they leave your knee and they're smiling and chattering you know, 'That one I got.'"