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Telegraph sits down for a candid conversation with Santa

By: Menka Belgal, Telegraph Correspondent
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When you meet Joe Nero for the first time, you might think you’ve seen him before. If you meet him at this time of year, you probably have. After all, he’s Santa. Nero said his favorite quote is, “Always keep the spirit of Christmas in your heart throughout the year.” He firmly believes this as would any Santa Claus at heart. Santa Joe (as he refers to himself) has played the role of Santa for the past two Christmases in El Dorado Hills and plans on doing so for the rest of his life. He spent last Christmas in Alaska seeing more than 6,000 children in 40 days. This year children don’t have to visit the North Pole, they can see him at the Welcome Center in El Dorado Hills. What do you currently do? I am retired. I spend my time between carving bird sculptures which I sell at a store in Carmel, hospice volunteering for Mercy Hospice and providing companionship to seniors and children in the hospice program. I also am a volunteer Santa with Santa-America, an organization that provides support for children and their families when they are sick and hospitalized. I love bringing joy to children and adults of all ages as Santa. I also enjoy hiking, snowshoeing and cycling. Before I retired, I was an engineer with a concrete company in Virginia. What inspired you to take on the role of Santa? In the beginning I became Santa because I wanted to touch the hearts of children by spreading the spirit of Christmas — love, caring and giving. I did not expect that the children would touch my heart so deeply time and time again. Have you met a child that has touched your heart? I was a mall Santa listening to all the things the children wanted for themselves, when up walks this cute little girl. She jumped up on my knee and introduced herself as Katie. She was 6. She told me she did not want anything for herself for Christmas but wanted very special gifts for four other people. I looked her in the eye and told her we would do the best we could. Katie said she wanted me to bring her mother a pair of glasses so she could read, to fix her father’s truck so he could work, a warm comforter for her grandmother and snowshoes for her grandfather to make it easier to bring in the firewood. I told Katie that she was very thoughtful and asked what she wanted for herself. She said, “If you take care of these four people that will be good enough.” She gave me a big hug and said goodbye. I sat there with tears welling up in my eyes and motioned for my elf to come over. I asked my elf if she could get the little girl’s address so Santa could write her a letter. Once my shift was over I (asked for) help from the local merchants to try and make Katie’s Christmas wish come true. We succeeded in getting everything on her list and a very special gift for her, and had them delivered to her home. A week after Christmas, Katie’s father went to the mall and asked who their Santa was (and told) them what had happened. He told the mall they had the real Santa and they all believed in him. What is the most interesting thing that has happened to you? Once when I was grocery shopping with my wife, I heard two children one isle over ignoring their mother’s plea to stop running and yelling. Well, the two children came running around the corner and who to their surprise was standing there, but a plump man with a long white beard and hair. They both stopped dead in their tracks and I just put my finger to my lips said “shush” and winked. Both children went running back around to their mother and I never heard another peep. When I got to the checkout counter, the cashier had this big grin on her face and she said that a lady with two small children had said Santa was in the store and was able to “magically” stop her children from misbehaving. What are your favorite songs and books? My favorite songs are “Silent Night” and “Little Drummer Boy.” I like reading all books on the history of Christmas and Santa Claus. Do you have any favorite cookies? Chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin. Tell us about your family. My wife’s name is Theresa and she is the vice president of nursing at Mercy Folsom Hospital. My daughter’s name is Michelle and she is a teacher in San Francisco. We moved to California in June 2010 to be closer to our daughter. What are you most proud of? Being a good Santa and bringing smiles to children of all ages. This includes adults. What one thing about you that people would be surprised to know? I was told that once I had decided to let my naturally white beard and hair grow out, that my life would never be the same. That did not really hit me until I put the red suit on for the first time, and then I cried. Something magical happens when you are in the red suit.