David Prados always wears high boots for fear of spraining his ankles. That, rigid footwear, is the only thing that prevails in him from his young years as a Green Beret in the Special Operations Group of the Spanish Army. Now, more than two decades later, his corpulent figure, 1.80 meters tall and weighing 107 kilos, goes unnoticed as just another traveler on the platform of the Renfe de Parla station (Madrid), while waiting for the train to go to Torrejón de Ardoz, where this year he works as Santa Claus in a theme park. Yet a tiny boy, clutching his mother’s hand, stands beside him at the edge of the tracks, poring over the well-worn size 47 black ankle boots David wears daily. The little boy looks up from the ground, looking at him with the fear of someone looking at a giant, but with the insight of being in front of someone he knows.
“He looks like Santa Claus,” he whispers cautiously to his mother.
Prados, with his headphones on, nods his head to the rhythm of ZZ Top and other heavy metal classics from the eighties. He doesn’t know anything. Tonight, the same night that Lionel Messi has decided to sleep with Kun Agüero dreaming of being world champions, the 49-year-old man has barely slept a sleep for four and a half hours, according to his smart wrist watch that he monitors the hours you rest “At dawn my pen goes away,” he explains. David does not lose sleep over the gold of a cup that makes him an idol of the masses, but rather the golden cardboard that he has bought on sale on Amazon to answer the letters of the children who sit on his knees every day to confess their wishes. David, who chains temporary jobs “whatever comes out” during the year, lives his high season as Santa Claus in December, either at the Magical Christmas House in Torrejón de Ardoz, or with a home delivery service the one who charges about 50 euros. If all goes well he will be able to get a small mattress of around 3,000 euros “to get by”.
40 kilometers from Torrejón, far from the red suit and shiny seat that disguise him as a Christmas icon, David reads the cards of the day under a blue light lamp, lying on the sofa in his house in Parla, where he lives with his mother, somewhat weakened health. Slowly and in good handwriting he replies to all those who left his address on the envelope until his eyes close. “I have about 50 or 60 earrings”, he laments, pointing to the plastic bag where he stores them. Only the coffee with milk, whose heat moistens his white-dyed beard, as well as his two cats, Chapi and Fujur, give him some energy to face another intense day of work. He doesn’t want to eat breakfast, he never does. “I don’t have a bathroom in the booth, I’m afraid to go to the public services in disguise. I prefer not to carry anything in my stomach in case the squeeze enters, ”he explains.
A Parleño by birth, Prados walks towards the Renfe station at the same time that he comes across the last drunks who come out and argue at the doors of the afters from the street of Santo Tomás de Aquino. “There is no work, but parties in this town…”, she comments ironically. It is a freezing Sunday morning, but Prados, who “knew the cold” in the Bosnian war during the winter of 1994, when he was 22 years old and was on a humanitarian mission with the blue helmets at the Splitz logistics base, is hot. in the body. A lumberjack-style checked jacket, as well as a short-sleeved shirt and a red hat that hides his yellowish hair are enough to face the journey.
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“At 25 I left the Army after the death of a colleague. Since then I have sought my life as I could, alternating better and worse streaks. I have been Santa Claus for 13 years now. I have learned to enjoy Christmas through the children, because I never experienced it, ”he confesses, while using a portable fan to remove the heat inside the train carriage. On the trip, which lasts more than an hour, David takes the opportunity to check job offers on the Job Today application, if it is possible that they are not “abusive and poorly paid.” “After this I will go back to unemployment, but I have hope,” admits the man, trained as a maintenance technician on construction sites.
At the theme park, David forgets himself. Once inside, he covers his beard with a dark panty so that the children cannot “recognize” him. Of all the workers, he is the only one that the security members let through without showing their accreditation. They may not know his name, but they all know who he is. Upon entering the Christmas House —a simulation of Santa Claus’s home in Lapland— Prados realizes that there is no light inside the facility. He fumbles through the halls, holding a multi-purpose flashlight that he holds in his mouth. Thus, he finally reaches the throne, along with a giant Christmas tree and some fake gifts. From the backpack he takes out a mirror and a makeup kit that will help him whiten his beard. “Purchasers like it to look white as snow, and for it to be real. Not just anyone is worth this job anymore ”, he comments. After several minutes of darkness, light finally comes, something that seems to trigger his memory. He still finds it amusing to remember his fleeting meeting with Cristina Cifuentes, when she was still president of the Community of Madrid. “I asked her if she had behaved well,” he recalls. “She told me that she had been too good. A few months later, she resigned, ”he comments between laughs, while he warms his boots with a dryer and puts some bells on them.
The elves and other extras arrive at the cabin when David is ready. He takes advantage of the dead time to take a nap, but the noises from the fair wake him up from his nap. With the mischief and curiosity of a child, he puts his ear to the front door. “They’re here,” he announces in a low voice to his companions. The show is about to start. Meadows closes his eyes. He moves his shoulders, his neck, his arms, as if he were a boxer before going into the ring. However, the last detail is still missing, the last ace up his sleeve that Prados keeps so that the children believe that they are before the real Saint Nicholas. He licks her white-gloved index finger with his tongue and turns on his personal tablet, where a counter appears counting down to Christmas. There are exactly five days, 12 hours, 16 minutes and 36 seconds left at the moment when the 17-year-old elf Patricia Cervantes asks him in a hurry: “Santa Claus, the first three groups that are fast, please”. “No problem. Take a photo and run”, he answers.
From there, the fluctuation of families is constant. The process is simple and sober, although David tries to personalize it as much as possible with each child. He asks his name, sits him on his knees, whispers into their ears so as not to intimidate them and, above all, maintains eye contact with the parents and thus guides them when asking questions. He checks the letter to see if they come with an address and then look for them in the mailbox. It is a very mechanical procedure, but you can never let your guard down.
“What do you want this year?” he asks a seven-year-old boy with brown hair.
—No gifts, only that my brother be happy in the star where he is. Take something to my dad, it can’t be for my mother, she’s dead—answers the little one.
Silence falls in the room. Prados, however, masterfully resolves the situation. He gives him a hug for several seconds and after whispering something to him, the boy returns to his father, almost on the verge of tears. “It’s very exciting. I like the mystery that they don’t know who is behind it. I prefer this anonymity, that they don’t see the person who makes them happy”, David confesses during a pause. “I never had gifts, nothing was ever celebrated in my house. Now, after going around a thousand times in life, I am a child again for one month a year. It’s my treat. This is my moment, that’s why I answer the letters, because for me it’s a healer. I would have freaked out if Santa Claus himself answered me as a child, ”he continues. “We live in the age of egoism, It is something that is also seen here, with the kids, who are increasingly demanding and materialistic. It is a very confusing time. Almost all of us are seeing them coming, filled with uncertainty. I give myself the whim of doing this simply because it does me good, even if no one understands it, ”she ends.
At half past two in the afternoon, after serving more than 40 families, David can finally stretch his legs and he gets up scratching his belly. “It’s time to eat,” says a colleague. In an electric lunch box he carries half a kilo of macaroni with chorizo and tomato, but first, while the rest of the world has lunch and rests, David sits on the floor, opens the mailbox and spreads out the letters to locate the ones he must answer. “They’ll think I’m crazy,” he says out loud. He makes several piles depending on the size until he finds one that really catches his eye. “Vidania SL. San Fernando de Henares. Electricity company ”he reads on the envelope. “This is great for me, in addition to the letter for the child, I put my resume to the father,” he jokes. And so, he begins to write on a piece of dirty paper, so that tonight, when he gets home at half past eleven, he can clean it up without typos:
“Hi, I’m glad to hear you’re doing well. Answering your question, yes, I know the Three Wise Men. I’ve talked to them about your studies and your gifts. I’m going to try to bring you the Pokémon crane. If I have room in the sled I will also throw the tracks”.
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