Pacific Beach librarian doubles as Santa Claus’ helper
Santa Claus’ helpers get recruited to help the jolly ol’ elf receive wishes during the holiday season in many ways.
For Evan Fickling, that recruitment happened at the Santa Clara Recreation Center in Mission Bay.
“It was not something I set out to do,” Fickling said. “I was working out at the Santa Clara Recreation Center and one day the director said to me that Santa was not going to be available (for the center’s upcoming event).”
Fickling was then asked if he could step in as Santa’s representative.
“I was a little put off,” Fickling said about the director’s view that he could fill out the well-known red suit.
“I was very nervous the first time I did it, but I did and have been doing it ever since,” he said.
Those volunteer appearances when Santa cannot leave the North Pole have included many of the City of San Diego’s libraries and recreation centers — even the Pacific Beach/Taylor Branch Library where Fickling has been a library staff member since 2005.
He’ll be representing Santa during the Santa Storytime at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 8 in the PB library at 4275 Cass St.
Another appearance will be at the second annual “Toys for Tots Toy Drive and Beach Cleanup” from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dec. 11 at Belmont Park, 3146 Mission Blvd. The event is organized by the Mission Beach Town Council and Don’t Trash Mission Beach.
Fickling will be Santa’s representative at the La Jolla Recreation Center on Dec. 10, the Mission Valley Library on Dec. 11, the Nobel Recreation Center on Dec. 16, plus the Tierrasanta and Point Loma/Hervey libraries, both on Dec. 18.
With Santa so busy traveling around the world on Christmas Eve, Fickling will also don the red suit for the 5 p.m. service on Dec. 24 at St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Pacific Beach.
“I like the energy,” he said. “I’m trying to kind of be a kid. At 51 ... an overgrown kid, but I realize I like Christmas in general and spreading holiday cheer. Making the occasion for the next generation of kids makes me happy.”
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Those kids who visit with him come from a variety of belief levels.
“One of the things I learned pretty early on was that there is a small window between little kids who are scared of Santa — I see a lot of that — to those who are older and too cool for Santa,” Fickling said. “There is a small window for those in-between.
“If they are scared, I try to be reassuring by talking with a gentle voice. Say ‘Ho! Ho! Ho! Santa likes children,’” he said. “But I am a large man ... not normally dressed. For older kids, I try to be cool with them. Tell them I used to act like that once too.”
When Fickling got recruited to help Santa over six years ago he wore fake beards.
“I hated them because I do not like the way they look and they don’t move with your face, which the kids can’t understand,” he said.
So for the last several years he’s grown a beard.
The beard-growing effort starts about six months before Fickling will be making appearances so it has time to become quite full. It initially looked more pepper than salt, he said, but has gotten more white in recent years.
“This way I can be a real bearded Santa and amazingly enough, it has not been pulled,” Fickling said.
Getting himself to resemble Santa isn’t as hard as figuring out how to respond to some youngsters’ requests and questions.
“The toughest thing is when kids ask you questions,” he said. “I’ve never had any real hard ones, but one little girl wanted a magic robot reindeer. Usually where I think (the gift) is impossible or they ask for their sports team to win, I say ‘Santa will see what he can do.’”
Unless he gets tipped off from Santa or a parent that a requested gift is likely, he makes no promises.
“I try not to throw (them) under the sleigh,” he quipped.
The most popular gift requests change each year, but they are usually for the hot new toy, Pokémon or Legos, he said.
“I’m always worried there will be a difficult question, but fortunately I have not had that happen,” he said, adding that most questions are about Santa’s reindeer and sleigh.
But he has come close.
His favorite encounter happened a couple years ago when a teenage boy asked him where Santa would live if the ice caps melted due to global warming, making the North Pole uninhabitable.
“He was a really bright kid and I wasn’t expecting that (question),” Fickling said. “I said ‘Detroit. It is a good industrial place there.’”
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted how Fickling can represent Santa. Last year he made one in-person appearance for the Pacific Beach Town Council — a drive-thru toy drive. Some libraries also held Zoom sessions so children could talk with him virtually.
This year the details of how children will be able to interact with him are still being worked out, but many of his appearances will be outdoors, which he said gives him some freedom.
“I have had both the (COVID) shot and booster and am prepared,” Fickling said. “So I believe things can change (this year) and kids can come up to me or sit on my lap.”
The El Cajon resident said he grew up in a military family, so they moved around a lot. With the exception of a brief period in Newport Beach, he has worked in the San Diego Public Library system since 1996.
“My mom was a librarian, so it was in the blood,” he said about his chosen career. “I like working with the public and doing customer service. I’m helping bring knowledge to people.”