GREATER LOWELL -- He rode the city bus and greeted every awestruck passenger who boarded.
He knew most of them, including the bus driver, by name, although he had never met any of them. Or had he?
He visited several local supermarkets where he would relieve the bell ringer outside the store, standing next to the bright red Salvation Army kettle.
And at some point during his extended visit to the Greater Lowell area several years ago, Santa Claus even rolled up his sleeve and donated a pint of blood at an American Red Cross blood drive in the basement of the Christ Church United on Arlington Street in Dracut. It was determined by Red Cross volunteer April Hamilton that Santa's blood type is "Ho, Ho, Ho -- positive."
"Yes, yes, I remember very well the good people of Lowell and her surrounding communities," Santa said when contacted recently. "Everyone made sure that Santa's days and nights were filled with excitement and merriment."
Habitually referring to himself in the third person, Santa explains his long-held tradition of finding an area of the world where he and Mrs. Claus can get a lay of the land in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas. The couple returns to the North Pole about a week before the big day.
"We get to know some of the wonderful people there and the marvelous little children. We learn the language, the customs, the traditions, and of course, we sample the food ... wherever we go," he says, rubbing his belly with both hands.
He continues to explain that these pre-Christmas vacations are also beneficial to the elves.
"They're all really a big bundle of nerves around this time of year and they work much better when I'm out of their hair," says Father Christmas.
During his three-week stay in Greater Lowell back in 2007, Santa appeared as a guest on numerous local access television stations. He was also the guest Sun Editor Jim Campanini, who hosted back-to-back two-hour call-in programs that were streamed live over the Internet. Santa fielded more than 75 calls and spoke to more than 200 boys and girls who could see Santa from the comfort of their homes as they peppered him with questions about the North Pole, the reindeer, the elves and even Santa's sleigh. Invariably, many wanted to know if they were on Santa's "Naughty" or "Nice" list.
And throughout, his message is clear: Do nice things for others, not only at Christmastime but all year long; obey the grownups and teachers and the police; share, be kind, don't fight, don't steal, don't lie and work hard is school.
Santa points out that his "Naughty" list is very, very small and his "Nice" list is getting longer and longer every day.
His mere presence brings smiles to faces of all ages. He recalls the tour he took of the Beaver Brook Mills in Dracut. Having just enjoyed a large repast at Owen & Ollie's Restaurant, Kris Kringle was compelled to stop in at Hems Plus The Tailoring Shop several doors down at 91 Mill St.
"The suits are getting a little snug," he confessed at the time. "I think we can stand to take them out in the back."
The seamstress was happy to oblige while Santa answered a reporter's questions.
Q: Come on now, really, how can Santa travel all around the world in one single night?
A: "A simple answer. Santa's reindeer fly from east to west. Every time we cross a time zone, it's an hour earlier. It's almost as if time stands still. Before I know it, I'm back at the North Pole enjoying a big bowl of tomato soup with rice and barley that Mrs. Claus just cooked. After all, red, white and green are my favorite colors."
Q: Do children ever ask you to bring them something that you just cannot bring them?
A: "It breaks my heart when a child asks me for a pet. The children have so much love in their hearts that they want to share but unfortunately, Santa can't bring pets because they will get very sick flying around in the sleigh at such a high altitude."
Q: Of all the places in the world, what is the most beautiful?
A: "Oh, without question, the North Pole is the most beautiful place in the world. You should go sometime."
Q: What is your favorite Christmas movie?
A: "Oh my. There are so many it's very hard to choose just one. But I guess I'd have to choose 'Miracle On 34th Street' because that's a very accurate depiction of what actually happened to me around that time. In other words -- true story."
Q: Can you remember the last time you cried?
A: "Just a few days ago. Santa heard some very bad news."