HAUSER LAKE - Nancy Angel, of Nancy's Novelty Grams, has a pillow that looks like Santa Claus' belly. Her costume preparation begins when she straps the pillow on her stomach with a belt.
Then she begins putting her long, brown hair up, then on go the white beard, mustache and wig.
Then the red pants, red coat, hat, and a pair of long black boots. All along she sings in Santa's voice, deep and booming.
She's been doing it for years, for every occasion, family, group or business. She doesn't just sit down with kids in her lap, she does singing, jokes and skits.
With her two daughters and son grown, she costumes up into Santa each year for multiple events. She loves to perform and come into strangers' lives and make their holiday brighter. She feeds off the warmth and spirit of others.
"Now that my kids have grown up, I get a little lonesome and so when I go out and do these things I put my whole heart into it," Angel said. "And it's like I get to involve myself in these family situations, and I don't necessarily have to be alone because I can bring joy to these people."
Back in the day, she was a single mother and could barely pay her rent. So to buy Christmas presents for her children, she began dressing up and being Mrs. Claus, Miss Claus, Santa Claus, the Grinch, an elf and an angel.
She has been living at Hauser Lake since 2002, at what her friends and family call her "North Pole," a home along the shore of the lake that resembles a ginger bread house.
What do you like about being Santa Claus?
What don't I like. It's become more special since my own kids have grown up. When you walk in that door their eyes just widen and they're like, "Santa!" They run up and they about tackle you. Just the magic of it. They don't even look for presents. It's all about the aura of you.
How did it go the first time you played Santa Claus?
The first time I did it I was very nervous. The first time I was Santa, I was Santa and Miss Claus at the same time. I had my Miss Claus on under my Santa. So for the first part I came in and I did Santa, then I was Miss Santa for the rest. The first time I was just Santa it was when this guy was going to actually ask his girlfriend to marry him. She had three kids from another marriage. I got to help pop the question.
Is there an advantage to being a woman and playing Santa Claus?
A lot of people are hesitant to hire me because I'm a woman. But that makes me better. It works as a benefit. (Many times, she said, a male Santa Claus can scare a toddler.) But if you put the mom voice on, even though you have the beard and mustache, you're like, "OK, honey, let's sit down and have a good time." When you put the mom voice on it calms them down. ... That makes me the best Santa, because I'm a mom. I'm used to being spit-up on. You just wipe it off and you go for it.
How did you get into the Santa Claus impersonation business?
I've done singing telegrams since the late 1980s. So I just kind of ventured on from there. I've had my own business since 2002, Nancy's Novelty Grams. I did elves, angels, Mrs. Santa Claus, and then somebody said, "We really want Santa." (Changing into her booming Santa Claus voice.) I can do Santa, yes I can.
How have you improved your craft?
I learn with every individual child, within every individual party. I've learned how to gauge my audience, whether they want that or they want this. If they want entertainment, I'll give them entertainment. If they just want me to sit down I'll do that.
What's the difference between Mrs. Claus and Miss Claus?
Miss Claus wears a mini-skirt, and Mrs. Claus wears an apron and a long dress.
How do you know if you make a convincing Santa Claus?
I walked right by my own daughter and she didn't recognize me. She was 12 or 13, and I walked right by her in the mall.
How long will you continue doing it?
It's addictive. If you dressed up like Santa tomorrow and went wherever, and you saw the joy in those people's faces, like at an old folks home, you'd see the joy in their faces and they just light up. ... The Alzheimer's disease patients, they don't recognize their own kids, but they'll recognize Santa. The joy just radiates out of them, and they're happy for that little tiny moment. That's why I do it.
Nancy Angel pulls on a white wig while displaying her Santa Claus persona.
Nancy Angel adjusts the coat of her Santa outfit.