From as far back as the 1849 short story “A Christmas Legend,” we’ve known Santa Claus’ marital status.

We’re not sure if her name is Mary or Martha or Gertrude or Carol – Jessica Kringle, perhaps? – but Mrs. Claus occasionally can be seen accompanying her ubiquitous husband on his pre-Christmas rounds.

For years, South Park Township resident Beth Hancsak had watched her husband, Joe, take youngsters onto his lap so that they could tell him their wish lists. Then, the year she retired:

“I thought, I can do it, too.”

So with the assistance of Amy’s Alterations in Peters Township, she had two red velvet dresses made, as definitely would befit Gertrude – yeah, let’s go with that – Claus. And for the past three holiday seasons, it’s been the Beth and Joe show.

Well, sometimes the invitation is for the Missus only. But usually, it’s a package deal, and the Hancsaks have a full schedule as the home stretch of 2019 approaches.

“It’s great fun because the kids are hilarious,” Joe says. “Some will attack you and tackle you by the leg, and give you a big hug and a kiss. And other kids won’t come within 20 feet of you.”

He recalls a memorable example of the latter during an event at St. Joan of Arc Church on Route 88:

“I kept trying to coax him and was asking him, ‘How am I going to know what you want for Christmas if you don’t sit on my lap?’ So the last time, he came over toward me. He probably got within five or six feet of me, and I said, ‘Well, if you’re not going to come over and sit on Santa’s lap, at least tell me what you want for Christmas.’

“And his response was, ‘I want a weed wacker.’ He couldn’t have been more than 3 years old.”

Santa Claus’ appeal isn’t limited to children.

“I had one young lady – she had to have been in her mid-20s, probably – who came for three years,” he says about a holiday gig at an area mall. “And all three years, she came dressed in her PJs. She had big, fluffy rabbit slippers and her hair tied in pigtails. She’d get her picture, and Santa would get a big peck on the cheek.”

Apparently, Mrs. Claus didn’t mind.

“We had a little girl who wanted to make sure that everybody got food for Christmas,” Beth chimes in, and that means everyone in the world. “These kids are amazing.”

Their stories can be touching, too, such one involving a boy of about 10 or 11 at Washington Crown Center, as Joe relates:

“He turned around and came back to me, and he says, ‘Can I ask you a favor?’ And I say, ‘Sure.’ He says, ‘Would you please tell my sister that I love her.’”

At this point, Joe has to pause for a moment before resuming.

“I said, ‘Where’s your sister?’ And he said, ‘She’s in heaven.’ I told him, ‘I’ll do the best I can for you.’”

Joe has heard quite a bit from young and old alike since he began listening to what they want for Christmas.

“I kind of do this in honor of my best buddy, Patrick Canevin. Pat did Santa for the Shriners, and he told me, ‘You know, you’d be a good Santa with that beard,” he says about his long, white, prototypically Clausy facial hair. “So about 15 years ago, I decided to go ahead and do it here and do it there. I seemed to do very well, so I continued with it.”

He’s learned that there’s much more to being Santa Claus than merely wearing a red suit and hat.

“What we usually do is go online and research the toys, so we know what the kids are asking for whenever they come,” Joe says.

For example, many requests are for dolls and action figures based on various high-profile films.

“You ask, ‘Who’s your favorite?’ They’ll tell you, but first of all, you have to start naming a few of them. And then they’ll say, ‘Oh, I like so-and-so,’” Joe explains. “You should be able to tell them, ‘Santa knows all about that one.’

“They aren’t stupid. They know whether or not you know what you’re talking about, so you don’t want to go in unarmed,” so to speak.

Also on the avoid-at-all-costs list:

“You can’t be a Santa sitting on that chair and have a kid come up to you and have just had a Braunschweiger-and-onion sandwich,” Joe attests. “You need to be clean. I always make sure that I’ve been showered, and my hair and beard have been cleaned. Brush your teeth and make sure that you have something for your breath to be fresh because they notice everything.”

All in all, his experiences with holiday well-wishers have been good ones so far.

“They love Santa, in general, if Santa is a Santa,” he says. “You need to be jolly, not a grump. If you’re a grump, you shouldn’t be a Santa.”

Joe and Beth Hancsak definitely fall into the jovial category.

“We both really enjoy doing this,” Joe says. “We have a lot of fun with it, and I’ll think we’ll continue for as long as we’re healthy, and we can do it.”

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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