His eyes twinkle, he is merry and while Granville Island’s Santa hasn’t been around forever, he’s been at the Kids Market for 18 years.
Bruce Marshall is Santa Claus.
The 50-year-old, part-time Kris Kringle, part-time puppeteer and full-time auction worker has been Santa to young visitors at the market since 1994 and fondly remembers his introduction to the job.
“There was a kid who came by for a walk with his mother every day so I would twist him a balloon animal, and he would bring me a rock,” said Marshall on Wednesday morning in the brief break between shows. “That year I guess that Santas were getting sick left, right and centre,” said Marshall, adding that the mother recommended him and soon after the then 32-year-old was donning a fake beard.
Today the beard is real, a necessity, he said. “When kids pull on the fake beard, it hurts. Whereas when kids ask me whether I’m the real Santa Claus I just go, try this,” Marshall grips the scraggly white hairs and tugs.
After his beard resists, they say, “Oh, he is the real Santa Claus.”
Because while good cheer, storytelling and making children laugh come naturally to him, the rest of the job takes dedication. The normally red-haired Marshall starts growing his beard in August and come November he’s bleaching the beard, his eyebrows, and even his hair so that the short bits that crop out of his long red cap are equally in character.
His Santa best practices include never promising a gift and a daily regimen of preemptive medication, like Fisherman’s Friend, vitamin C and a host of multi-vitamins. “Because of course I’ve got every sick kid in the city coming across my lap at some point,” Marshall said.
In 18 years, Marshall has never missed a day.
On Wednesday morning, Marshall makes his entrance jingling bells to a sea of over two dozen wide-eyed kids and almost half as many parents. They clustered around his throne, which is tucked in an enclave marked by paper gates brightened by foil candy canes and Christmas lights.
His room is nestled in the back upstairs corner, and here Marshall is hard to miss. He’s suited-up, complete with reds pants, a crimson jacket, a forest-green vest lined with gold lamé trimmings buttoned over his fake belly, and big black boots to top it off.
He passes out music-makers — bells, rattles, blocks — and encourages the children to participate as he leads carols, then quiets them for a Christmas tale.
The Kids Market, Marshall said, offers a unique Santa experience, a departure from the long line-ups at malls that make for cranky children. “By the time you get on Santa’s lap, you’ve already been playing with him for 20 minutes,” said the father of three.
This day the wishes are more wide-ranging than the typical request he gets — Lego and Barbie dolls.
Oliver Boyle, a four-year-old from Commercial Drive, agreed he had to settle for a little less than he wanted. “I can’t get a whale,” Boyle explained, adding that he plans to call the fish Goldy he’ll receive instead.
Kids can visit Marshall every day from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. until Dec. 24.
AUDIO: Granville Island’s Santa, Bruce Marshall, sings and makes merry during his first show Wednesday morning and talks with the Vancouver Courier about the most memorable gift request he’s heard this year. Christopher Guite, an animated three-year-old from Kitsilano, shares his long wish list for remote-control toys.