Celebrating Burr Datz ’75 and His Era as W&L’s Santa Claus Datz served as Santa Claus for the W&L Winter Wonderland celebration from 2012-2021
Q. Where did you grow up?
Rockville Centre, New York.
Q. When did you graduate from Washington and Lee and what was your major?
I graduated in 1975 with a bachelor of arts in Spanish.
Q. What positions have you held at W&L over the years?
There have been many. I have been assistant director of food service (2 years), assistant director of public safety (9 years), catholic campus minister at W&L and VMI (20 years), director of leadership development and coordinator of religious life (9 and 5 years, combined) and docent for university museums (3 years).
Q. What year did you first dress up as Santa Claus?
The first year was 2012.
Q. What first prompted you to serve as the “Jolly Old Elf?”
It sounded like it would be a fun thing to do for two hours — sing on Lee House steps with children and families to light the tree and then walk over to Elrod Commons living room for an hour and a half for the children’s “Santa moment.”
Q. What has been the best thing about being Santa Claus for the holiday season?
The magic of being present to a child, especially because Santa is a larger-than-life character for the holidays. I tried to personalize that experience for children. I had worked here for so long and knew many of the children’s names, so once they came to me, we could chat, parents would take a pic or three, I would hear their gift wish list and then it was on to the next child.
Q. What is your most memorable moment from your time as Santa Claus?
There are so many! One year, a child only wanted a pony and the parents asked me (Santa) to see if there was anything else that they wanted, because ‘pony’ was all that they were asking for and the parents couldn’t do that. The child approached with a friend and they both took a knee. I said, “I know that you want a pony with all your heart! So many children around the world want one too and I don’t know if I can give one to every child that wants one — what else could I bring you if I run out on Christmas Eve?” They replied, “I was afraid of that. I really don’t want anything else, because on your other knee is my best friend and that’s really all I want!” What a tender, sweet moment!
Q. What has been the secret to your success in playing Santa Claus?
Imagination. Children today, especially in the 7- and 8-year old range, are pretty wise beyond their years and ask questions that can really put Santa on the spot. Recently, one child asked how I was going to get into their house — they have a security system and deadbolt locks on all doors. I said “If the children in the house have been good, I can blow into the keyhole and the door will open.” “Why?” “It’s magic, the same magic that helps me get all around the world in one night.” “OK — but what about the video? Will we see you?” “Uh, the video only captures crooks and bad folks; I’m a good guy and the video disappears as soon as I do.”
Q. Have the children’s gift requests changed over the years?
Not really — maybe some more video games recently, but usually it is trucks, toy guns, Legos, games, books, dolls and doll houses, and pets.
Q. What was the strangest gift request you have encountered?
A new baby brother. The little boy had two sisters and very much wanted a brother. The parents got a big kick out of that request!
Q. What is your favorite Christmas or holiday movie?
There’s no one favorite. I like “Scrooged”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Rudolph” and “Elf.”
Q. What is your favorite holiday moment as a parent?
Our youngest daughter leaping into bed one Christmas morning at 5 a.m. yelling “Santa was here!! Santa came!”
Q. Is Christmas your favorite holiday?
Yes. We have four grandsons so their arrival at our house and the opening of gifts is a very special annual threshold.
Q. Why did Santa decide to hang it up and return to the North Pole?
I don’t feel that I know as many families and children, as a result of retiring and COVID, and I can’t personalize those moments as well as I used to. There’s also the health concerns. It’s tough to be a warm and welcoming Santa behind a mask. I just thought it is the right time.