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December 04, 2016
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How Santa Claus makes a difference

Al and Maria Frangipane of Kauneonga Lake, NY look forward all year to playing Mr. and Mrs. Claus at Christmastime for many of the children in Sullivan County.
Contributed photo

“It’s my feeling about being Santa that when you dress the part, you have to become Santa Claus,” he said. “I really like to see the children have confidence in Santa, to look me in the eye and have the feeling they can trust you.” He tells how a child often will sit on his lap and then search the crowd to catch the eye of a parent or a foster parent. He admits he likes to watch the parents’ faces light up, too. “The parents enjoy these occasions as much as the children,” he observed.

Sometimes, something really special happens when a child talks to him. On one Sunday this month, Santa Frangipane had three separate children sit on his knee to ask for gifts for someone else. “One little girl told me, ‘Santa, you took care of me last year. I don’t need anything this year. Give my present to someone who needs it more than me.’” Another child, around six or seven, told Santa to give his present to his brother. These are the stories this Santa Claus loves. “I really wish more people could understand what magic happens,” he said.

This year, he had one experience that gave him goose bumps. A boy came and sat on his lap and together they held a conversation. Santa asked the boy a few questions and the boy answered. And then the boy asked Santa a question: “Where’s your reindeer?” After that the boy got down from Santa’s lap, and the boy’s mother came over to speak to Frangipane. She was very moved by the whole experience, explaining that her son was autistic and generally doesn’t’ speak to people, not even much at home.

Frangipane has been playing Santa Claus for at least 45 years. It all started in Brooklyn for family and friends. “Being Santa was something I inherited from an uncle of mine who did it for years,” he said. The whole project continued after he retired from the bench on the New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn and moved to Sullivan County.

Frangipane is active in his community. He’s a Red Cross volunteer, a member of Bethel Lions Club, a fire commissioner at Kauneonga Lake and chairperson of a luminaries project (for 13 years) in Kauneonga Lake. He and his wife are also in involved with the Hurleyville museum.

But the highlight of his year is Christmastime. “The other 11 months of the year may have their ups and downs,” he said, “but come December, I know I’m going to be happy.” Christmas, he said, always gives him a clearer picture of what the world should always be like the rest of the year.