By Morgane Dumont
Christmas is coming. Like every year, the windows of the large department stores are once again dressed to impress. Santa Claus blossoms everywhere. Meet Christian Poincheval, the most famous Father Christmas in France.
It’s an unlikely scene. Santa Claus on lunch break. “Santa Claus of the Galeries Lafayette eats with everyone”, says Poincheval, 73 years old, meal tray in his hand. And it doesn’t go unnoticed in the public cafeteria of the Parisian department store. Many employees come to greet him: “Ah, my friend!”. Kids too: “Hello Santa! I would like a fire truck this year”. For that, you need to be good… “There you go, a nice steak and fries!”, the cook tells Santa Claus. The perfect meal for the biggest child who has been doing this unusual job for almost half a century. And for six years at the Galeries.
Fortified, Santa returns to work. Every day, up to 400 children visit him. “Are you happy to see Santa Claus?” “- Yeees!” cried the children. “Well, Santa is happy to see you too.” Sitting on his green velvet seat, Christian is surrounded by pretty, cardboard Christmas trees and carefully wrapped gifts. It’s time for seven hours of smiles, jokes and pictures. “Look at me! This way. Okay, thank you!”, continues the photographer. The photos are sold ten euros each.
Every year, Santa Claus is in high demand. He’s so popular that he now has an agent who handles his bookings. “We suggest him every time we are asked for a Santa”, says Sylvie Fabregon, booking director at Wanted Models. An amusement park, a telecommunications company or big chocolate manufacturer… Everyone wants him. A French Santa Claus is paid on average 13 euros an hour. But impossible to know the salary of our Santa. It’s a Christmas Secret… It’s confidential.
What is not, is the name of his village. Gesvres (53370), in Mayenne. Five hundred inhabitants. Here, the other 11 months of the year, Poincheval cultivates his image and values of Santa Claus: “Maybe I was born Santa Claus… I don’t even know. Maybe that’s it. It’s more than a vocation, it’s in my genes.” Especially since Poincheval never had to dress up. Nothing is artificial. His white beard and his little round glasses are authentic. “You have to have this desire to share, this desire to offer, to smile, the simple little thing. It doesn’t take much, but yes, from the heart, please, from the heart.”
Heart and courage, his wife has both. Because living with Santa Claus… “Sometimes it’s a little intrusive”, Evelyne Poincheval smiles, “living with this level of delusiun and originality, this magnificent utopia.” And when Santa takes off his traditional clothes, Christian produces eccentric pieces of art. In his garden, his works litter the ground. “What’s that? It must be a locomotive… This is an unknown animal… This is a rider!”, says Poincheval proudly pointing at plastic bottles transformed into children’s toys. In turn, visual artist, painter, sculptor… Christian’s brain never stops bubbling.
But the most offbeat inventions are in a red box inside the house. “The famous fart pill. It perfumes flatulence. There are different flavours: lily of the valley, rose, chocolate…”, says Poincheval. But there is also pocket toilet paper, ready-to-drink coffee or printed toilet paper.
This crazy universe seems the opposite of the chic Galeries Lafayette. In December, Poincheval lives in little hotel room. This is where he prepares : “Ohohoh”. Then brushes his beard, twirls his mustache. “Santa, of course, sometimes he gets sad.” Poincheval realized that he spent more time with his two children. But he tries to reassure himself, “If Santa Claus, Dad, is not there… He’s there because we think about it strongly and love each other so much.”
His two grandchildren, but also his children, must contend with Santa’s busy schedule. “Like all Santa Claus, he’s very busy on the 24th and 25th, so we have to make a little effort and say that we will celebrate Christmas afterwards”, says Abraham, his eldest son. His daughter, Penelope added : “Precisely this year, we will let him go back to his native country, so that he can rest and then we will celebrate at the first of the year”.
In the meantime, Christian Poincheval has to work until Christmas to live his funny life.