Meet a Faculty Member: David E. Johnson
Take one look at David Johnson, lecturer in the College of Public Affairs’ School of Criminal Justice, and you can probably guess what he does in his spare time between Thanksgiving and Dec. 24. In fact, he preps year-round for the monthlong gig that keeps him nearly constantly on camera—one, he says, that dovetails nicely with his former 25-year career with the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System, from which he retired as chief U.S. probation officer for the U.S. District Court, District of Maryland.
“In a way, being Santa Claus is like being a probation officer,” he says with a jolly twinkle in his eye. “You have people coming to you telling you how good they’ve been—and maybe not being 100 percent truthful.”
Q: How did you get started as a Santa Claus?
A: About three years ago, my wife and I were at … [the] mall, and a young lady came up to me. She said she managed the Santa concession at Arundel Mills mall and needed somebody, and she thought I’d make a good Santa. I said, “Let me think about it.” Well, I did Arundel Mills for a couple of years. … [For this past holiday season,] the photographer who does the Santa Experience at the Shops at Kenilworth saw me and asked if I was interested, and the shops are only about 15 minutes from home. I can still get my Santa fix and teach full time.
Q: Do you own your suit?
A: Yes, the costumes I wear are from California, from Adele’s of Hollywood. She’s been making Santa suits for over 40 years. It’s a big part of her business. I have a couple of crimson suits with a seven-inch, white-fur shawl collar. You always have to have a backup if you’re a mall Santa—you never know what might happen.
Q: What are some of the most memorable wishes you’ve heard?
A: I had a little girl ask for a hippopotamus. I said, “You mean a toy?” And she said, “No, a real one.” I asked how she’d take care of it, and she said they had a swimming pool. Then there was a boy who asked for an official certificate from Santa saying he’d been good that year. … I always have a number of kids who ask for presents for kids whose parents can’t afford to give them something, and I had one little girl who said, “I’d like to have a home”; she said she was homeless. There are the real tear-jerkers: “Can you help me get mom and dad back together?” “Can you please get mom and dad back from overseas for Christmas?”
Q: Do you believe in Santa?
A: Of course! Who do you think brings all those great presents every year? I always wish for everybody: health and happiness and world peace.