Thursday, November 8, 2012

Book Review: Being Santa Claus by Sal Lizard with Jonathan Lane

Title: Being Santa Claus: What I Learned About the True Meaning of Christmas
Author: Sal Lizard (with Jonathan Lane)
Publisher: Gotham
Publication Date: November 8, 2012
Source: ARC received from publisher for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads:

A veteran Santa reveals heartwarming true stories and lessons from his twenty-year career spreading Christmas magic.

With the holiday shopping season beginning earlier each year, more than ever.  Americans are struggling to remember the true meaning of Christmas. And who better to deliver the gift of Christmas inspiration than a man who has spent the last two decades playing Santa?

Sal Lizard was in his twenties when his beard and hair turned completely white.  Today he appears everywhere from malls and parades to schools and hospitals. And— from his custom-made red velvet suits to the mistletoe that hangs from the rearview mirror in his Santa-mobile—he is Santa Claus three hundred and sixty-five days a year. 

In  Being Santa Claus  Sal reflects on his experiences with both children and adults including:

Christmas magic is all around us: We don’t always see it, but it is there, shaping and enriching our lives. 

Sometimes you need to go that extra mile: Santa Claus is the one person who can’t even use a blizzard as an excuse not to honor his commitments, and Sal teaches adults the importance of always showing up for our children. 
Even a small child can make a big difference:  Sal has met some impressive children over the years, and he’s learned that you don’t need to be a grown-up to make an impact on the world around you. 

In  Being Santa Claus  Sal shares these lessons, along with often heartwarming, occasionally heartbreaking, and sometimes downright hysterical stories from his twenty-year career as Santa.

My Review:

Usually, I don't start getting into the Christmas spirit until after Thanksgiving--I like to take my holidays one at a time.  But when I had the chance to review this ARC, I couldn't resist getting into the spirit a bit early here on the blog!  Plus, who doesn't like a feel-good memoir once in a while?

This book is a short read--at 196 pages, many of you could probably do it in one sitting.  Even so, Sal Lizard's tales as a professional Santa leave their mark.  They alternately made me smile (as he got an entire mall to start singing Christmas carols with him at random) and cry (when he visited child cancer patients in a Boston hospital).  And I am NOT a crier, people.  Believe that.

The best thing about this memoir is that Sal's passion for truly being Santa Claus comes through in his stories.  He takes his role very seriously; even when he's out and about in non-Santa capacities, he makes sure that he behaves in a way that kids would expect to see from the Big Guy.  He seems to have a simple, genuine interest in spreading Christmas cheer.  I'm one of those people who gets very frustrated with the commercialization of Christmas at times, but this book reconnected me with the things I LOVE about the holiday--being charitable, enjoying friends and family, and remembering the childlike joy of the season.

The only complaint I have about this book is that, at times, the writing almost makes the stories seem too good to be true.  I know, I know--I was just waxing poetic about the wonders of Christmas, and now the book is too happy?  But it's worth mentioning this, because the thought poked into my brain more than once.  In all of these stories, Sal always acts/thinks/responds in the perfect way, and his timing is always exactly right--almost to the point where the tales started to feel fictional by the end.  It was a little overdone, and I point it out because I think it will be evident for many other discerning readers, as well.

However, that does not make me recommend this book any less!  It's a book about Santa, after all--so maybe I just need to believe?  ;-)

If you want a fun, light-hearted read that's sure to get you into the Christmas spirit, Being Santa Claus definitely fits the bill.

Happy Holidays!


  1. I'm finding myself in the holiday spirit much earlier than normal this year, too -- and agree about the commercialization of Christmas. This sounds like a great read to enhance the spirit, and I love heartwarming stories at the holidays! Thanks for the caution about the "too perfect" moments, though. I'll try to just appreciate the magic. :)

  2. Thanks for the positive review, Kelly. I'm Santa's co-author, Jonathan, and I'd like to chime in to tell you that, believe it or not, all of Sal's stories needed no embellishment or gilding of the lily. He really does think of just the right things to say at the right moments. In fact, I've witnessed the magic a few times personally when he's come to California for a visit with me and my family.

    There were a couple of stories from Sal's early days as a mall Santa that would have shown him fumbling a little more as he learned what worked, and he didn't always say the perfect things. But those stories tended to be less engaging and slowed down the pacing to a crawl, so they were left on the cutting room floor in favor of the "best of the best."

    As you said, it's a book about Christmas and Santa, so it's definitely focused more toward the happiest and most heartwarming of Sal's stories. But they really are true. Sal thinks quickly on his feet, and the moments of "Christmas inspiration" really do happen to him. Of course, you have only my word on that, and I only have Sal's, but I really have seen the magic in action first-hand, and it's certainly something to see!

  3. Jonathan, thank you so much for the feedback. It is great to hear this info from the source! I think you don't see too many 100% happy/heartwarming books these days, so the cynic in me couldn't help but notice the tone. It is very fitting with the subject though, and it sounds like Sal has really made a world of difference for a lot of people in his Santa role!

  4. I enjoyed the book - I've been donning the red suit for the last eight years and many of his stories rang true. My only quibble with the book is that it's subtitled "What I Learned About The True Meaning Of Christmas," but he fails to really address the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of "Christ" contained in the day's name. Yes, I know, it's a book about portraying Santa, but that subtitle suggests that it should have at least touched on the real meaning of Christmas, even if only in the introduction. The only mention of Jesus is one brief one about a statue of a "blessed man" on a cross!

  5. @Secular Franciscan, that is a really good point. I am not particularly religious myself, so I didn't pick up on it, but given your argument I do see how that subtitle could be inappropriate for the subject.


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