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The Interview: A Sit-down with Santa

with Janet Reilly

Janet Reilly has a sit-down with Santa. | Photo courtesy of Spencer Brown.
Janet Reilly has a sit-down with Santa. | Photo courtesy of Spencer Brown.
Janet Reilly
‘Twas the night before holiday shopping, and all through Nob Hill, not a creature was stirring, only workers completing round-the-clock road improvements on Van Ness. And on that very eve, our own Janet Reilly sat down with Santa Claus for this exclusive interview about what makes the City a magical place during the holiday season.

Mr. Claus, it’s such a pleasure to meet you. I’ve been a big fan since I was a small child. Let’s get into it, shall we?

The pleasure is all on this side of Santa’s sleigh!

What are some of your favorite San Francisco traditions during this time of year?

Whether it’s the first glimpse of John Waters at a local theater; the giant edible gingerbread at the Fairmont; the green, red and white leather costumes at SantaCon; the tree at Neiman Marcus; the ice rink at Union Square; or the flyover of the Painted Ladies, the City doesn’t disappoint. Most importantly, remember: This season is about the spirit of giving. So bake a cake for a neighbor or pick up one from Tartine, give someone in need a coat or a sleeping bag and donate to Glide or St. Anthony’s. Giving to others is my favorite San Francisco treat.

It must be tough navigating the fog in the City?

Well, I have three ways in: I can come over the Peninsula, where I swoop through Stanford Shopping Center. Or I can glide over the Mormon temple in Oakland and the Claremont hotel to the lights of the Bay Bridge, but I have to steer over Yerba Buena Island, and then it’s a looping voyage around Salesforce and Coit towers to the Mark Hopkins. My favorite is flying down the coast from Alaska and sneaking under the Golden Gate Bridge. I give the reindeer a break in the Presidio before we hit Broadway and California Street. One year, Rudolph got a little tipsy from too much eggnog we poached from the Julia Morgan Ballroom and it was a wild ride out of the City. Situations like this call for a self-driving sleigh, but I’ll leave that technology to Waymo!

The tradition in our house is to leave you milk and cookies that our daughters, Jill and Ava, bake. Do you have any special requests this year? Maybe switch it up a little?

Who says no to milk and cookies? It’s very nice of everyone to consider me and the elves who work on Christmas Eve. Some of the place settings look like a Wayne Thiebaud painting — just wonderful! He’s a favorite of mine and I love viewing his work at SFMOMA, the Anderson Collection at Stanford or the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at UC Davis.

But since you asked, there is one request I might make: When I’m in one of the best food cities in the world, I wouldn’t mind sampling some local favorites. Maybe Dungeness crab from Swan Oyster Depot or crawfish beignets from Brenda’s. Liam Mayclem must have some recommendations. Also, remember: I’m pulling an all-nighter. I could use something stronger than milk! Like an espresso from Caffe Trieste. If I have the energy and time at the end of my run, I swing by Grubstake for a cheeseburger. That always hits the spot at 2 a.m.

It’s been a difficult couple of years for the world, and San Francisco is no different. COVID has brought its own unique economic, social and emotional challenges. San Francisco has faced many difficulties in its history, whether earthquakes, fires or loss of loved ones. But the City always bounces back.

With COVID today, do you have to take any precautions at the North Pole or on your routes?

Luckily, all of my elves are vaccinated and wear masks. We haven’t had any outbreaks. Personal Santa appearances can be difficult for the kids, but it’s nothing a little Santa-tizer and six feet of distance can’t solve. I also made sure to get my COVID booster. Dr. Fauci as well as all the medical professionals, like UCSF’s Dr. Robert “Bob” Wachter, who helped out during the pandemic, and Mayor London Breed, who threw down the gauntlet early to prevent community surge, are going to get a little something special in their stockings this year. Thanks to their hard work, it’ll hopefully be a merrier holiday for everyone.

Anyone on the naughty-or-nice list the Gazette should know about?

Yes! I always phone ahead and ask columnist Catherine Bigelow who’s been good or bad, and she tells it like it is.

Buster Posey and Governor Gavin Newsom both finished strong. Stephen Curry is a magician; Gabe Kapler is a computer in a uniform. Neal Benezra, Helgi Tomasson, Michael Tilson Thomas and Matthew Shilvock are artistic icons. And so much generosity in this town! I have to look over my shoulder at people like Dede Wilsey, the Diller family, the Benioffs, the Gettys, the Fishers, the Swigs, the Haases, the Goldmans, the Pritzkers, the Sobratos, the Marcuses, Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem, the Guggenheims, the Dolbys, the Hellmans, the Bechtles, the Sangiacomos, the Dolls, Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki, the Shorensteins, Lloyd Dean, Jack Dorsey, Goretti Lo Lui and Lawrence Lui, Marc Andreessen and Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, Susan Ford Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Jillian Manus, Craig Newmark, Susie Tompkins Buell and Mark Buell, Pamela Joyner and Fred Giuffrida, Nicola Miner and Robert Mailer Anderson and so many more who are Santa Claus to so many year-round with their philanthropy. Plus all the foundations and volunteers who have kept local nonprofits afloat during an especially hard time.

And, what about the naughty list?

You know I don’t name those names, but there are a few!

What about Dear Santa letters? Anyone ask for anything unusual?

Ivy Getty slid into my Instagram DMs. She said all she wanted for Christmas was help with the seating chart for her wedding, but it was too early in the season for me to be of service. And every few years, I receive a letter from the always stylish Denise Hale. She doesn’t really ask for any gifts; she mostly just wants to update my look. She’s been after me for decades, but I’m most comfortable in my red velvet suit. Willie Brown likes my style the way it is anyway.

After Christmas, what will the rest of your December and January look like?

Mrs. Claus and I have been talking to Joe D’Alessandro, the president and CEO of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau. We’re looking to spend a week or two here in the City. We can’t wait to try Abacá, but since it was just named one of the best new restaurants in the country by Esquire, getting a table might be even tougher now. Joe recommended a game at the Chase Center with a nice dinner at Miller & Lux beforehand. He said Tyler Florence will hook us up. My wife is a big Steph Curry fan, too, so hopefully she doesn’t embarrass me by fawning over him on the court.

Sitting in the sleigh takes its toll on my back and hips, so Joe suggested some hikes around the Presidio; we haven’t had a chance to check out the Quartermaster Reach Marsh that opened last December. And we’ll try to squeeze in a session at the new Lisa & Douglas Goldman Tennis Center. Maybe I’ll invite Buster for a quick game now that he has some extra time on his hands. While we’re at Golden Gate Park, we should check out the Judy Chicago show at the de Young or take a spin on the Ferris wheel.

It sounds like you’ve got a great season ahead. Any final words for the people of San Francisco?

It’s been a difficult couple of years for the world, and San Francisco is no different. COVID has brought its own unique economic, social and emotional challenges. San Francisco has faced many difficulties in its history, whether earthquakes, fires or loss of loved ones. But the City always bounces back. And part of the heart of San Francisco is the care that its citizens have for one another. This love and support has been represented by so many. If everyone pulls together, San Francisco will remain the jewel on the hill — and forever on my nice list!

Mr. Claus channeled by Bay Area comedian, speaker and author Nina G.

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