A professional Santa Claus has delivered a truly touching Christmas gift to the masses after opening up his heart and soul to the internet while sharing his personal life story – detailing how he turned his childhood devotion to the festive season into a decade-long career as a Macy’s Kris Kringle.
New Yorker Johnny Tammaro, 50, tells his story via 15 installments on the Humans of New York Instagram account, taking followers through a roller coaster of emotions as he opens up about the many twists and turns that have led him to the present day – and his holiday work at the world’s largest department store.
Tammaro begins his story in childhood, recalling how his unwavering belief in Santa brought a special kind of magic to the holiday season, before detailing the way in which the illusion of Father Christmas slowly began to crumble with age.
Some of his saddest times growing up included the realization that Santa wasn’t real at the age of 12 and the death of his father seven years later of a heart attack.
However, Tammaro says several things helped restore his spirit in life, including the moment he met his wife Tabatha at the theater guild, the birth of his son Jack and the decision to have a shot at being Santa at the age of 38, despite being worried he was ‘too young, too skinny, and way too Italian’.
New Yorker Johnny Tammaro, 50, works as a Macy’s Santa and says he has always been obsessed with Christmas
Tammaro reveals his Santa story on Instagram and says when he started out, he thought he was ‘too skinny’ and ‘too Italian’ to play the role of Father Christmas
The self-confessed ‘sad clown’ who describes his life as being a mix of ‘sadness and euphoria’ says that as a child he was obsessed with Christmas and every year he would watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with his mom, dad and two brothers and they would visit Santa on the top floor of Macy’s afterwards.
He also details his love of magic from a very early age, recalling how he would perform tricks for his family – often rehearsing them for his dad so they would be perfect by the time he showed his mother.
‘My father was always the first person I showed my magic tricks,’ he said. ‘I wanted to mess them up with him, so they’d be absolutely perfect when I showed my mom.’
Eventually, Tammaro’s love of magic turned into a career – and he started performing at birthday parties: ‘Eventually my tricks got good enough that I started doing birthday parties. My first car had a personalized plate that said: ‘MAJICK.”
However, his story takes a devastating turn when he recalls the moment that he learned his father had died of a heart attack, recalling how he ‘suddenly heard a knock on the door’ while preparing for a magic show.
‘One afternoon I’m in my bedroom, getting ready for a party,’ he writes. ‘Taking my box apart, organizing my silks. When suddenly I hear a knock on the door. Not the side door. The front door, which was very strange. Because we never used the front door.
Christmas has always been a big part of Tammaro’s life. Above, pictured with Santa in 1971
Every year Tammaro’s mom would go to great efforts in decorating the house (left) and he would go to Macy’s Santaland with his brothers (right, the trio pictured in 1983)
One of the saddest times of his life, Tammaro said, was the sudden passing of his dad of a heart attack when he was 19
Tammaro (seen with his mother and father) writes: ‘It was never supposed to happen. It was summertime. He was tan. He was only forty-six. He had a heart attack at work’
‘It was never supposed to happen. It was summertime. He was tan. He was only forty-six. He had a heart attack at work. The policemen on our doorstep said by the time they got to him, it was too late. I’d never even been to a funeral before. First funeral I ever went to, and it’s for my own father.’
Following his dad’s death, he said he went about putting all of his energy into Christmas as a way of helping his mom out.
Santa never, ever promises a gift. That’s a big one. One year Santa accidentally promised an iPad. And Macy’s had to buy the kid an iPad
He writes: ‘I wanted to do it bigger than ever. We’d never had outdoor decorations before, so I went to the discount store and got some outdoor decorations: toy soldiers for the front steps. A star for the porch. Big, chunky lights for the front gates.
‘I hauled the boxes out of the basement and filled our living room with the usual tchotchkes (trinkets). Then up went the banner, with all the pictures from Macy’s. There’s a couple photos where it’s just me and my mom. My brothers were getting a little old for it.
‘But every year, when she asked if we were going to see Santa, I’d say: “Yes. Yes we are.” Grown woman. Husband dead. And she would still speak to this man like he was real: “Santa, it’s been such a tough year. But we’re so happy to see you.” I’m smiling in the photos.’
Seemingly the Christmas tradition had a big impact on Tammaro and in a bid to keep the magic alive into adulthood, he went from managing a toy store and working as an actor off-Broadway to auditioning as the Macy’s Santa.
After his father’s passing, Tammaro says he lost his love of magic – and for a time he questioned whether the ‘wonder was gone for good’, until he began working at a local theater
It was during his work at the theater guild that Tammaro met his wife, Tabatha, explaining that he took ‘three months to finally muster the courage to ask for a date’
‘We both loved each other, a lot,’ he writes. ‘More than that. We liked each other, a lot. And we still do. In 2001 we got married’
Tammaro says a former colleague from the toy store was the one who first gave him the idea to try for the part of Santa after he bumped into her at the Macy’s Santaland with his son and she was dressed as an elf.
He recounted: ‘She leaned in close, and said: “Hi Johnny! Come work with us.” I laughed. I was thirty-eight at the time. Way too old to be an elf. But too young to be Santa. I didn’t even consider it.’
But six months later the entertainer said he received an email from Macy’s, requesting applications for the holiday season and they called him in for an interview.
From there, he said, it was clear the job was the right fit. In the interview he said the first question he was asked was ‘why do you love Christmas?’ to which he responded: ‘How much time do you have?’
In one Instagram post, Tammaro gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life as the Macy’s Santa.
He writes: ‘In late November all the Santas gather in a meeting room for breakfast and coffee. Twenty-five to thirty guys. All different races, religions, orientations.
‘Most empathetic group of men I’ve ever met. It’s an emotional mess. We talk about why we’re there. We swap stories of special visits from the past.’
The first year as Macy’s Santa, Tammaro said he was the youngest one ‘by a lot’ and the other workers were also grayer and chubbier than him.
Another source of joy for Tammaro came in the form of his son Jack, however he admits that he ‘hit a rough patch’ after his son was born, when he struggled with ‘anxiety’
Tammaro kept up the same annual tradition of visiting the Macy’s Santa after his son was born, and it was during their trip when Jack was three that he was asked to try out for Kris Kringle
The Macy’s Santa is gut-wrenchingly honest about fatherhood, describing his heartache at watching his son Jack grow up – and slowly learn that Santa Claus isn’t real
For his first outing as Santa, the dad-of-one was give a ‘huge’ Santa guide detailing all of the dos and don’ts.
He reveals: ‘Inside it tells you everything. The history of the real St. Nicholas. How to say Merry Christmas in every language… Santa doesn’t actually say “Ho, Ho, Ho.” It’s a laugh. It’s how he laughs.
‘He doesn’t sing songs. He never asks a child’s name. And Santa never, ever promises a gift. That’s a big one. One year Santa accidentally promised an iPad. And Macy’s had to buy the kid an iPad.’
During his training, Tammaro got to observe visits from veteran Santas and he ‘tried to pull something from each guy: a laugh from this one, a look from that one’.
Then finally the day came when it was his turn to put on the suit. The first year he was Santa, Tammaro said his son came to visit him but he panicked when the four-year-old realized Kris Kringle ‘sounded like daddy’.
Luckily, Tammaro’s brother was there to rescue him and he told his nephew: ‘It doesn’t sound like your daddy, Jack.’
They don’t give you a pamphlet for it. When they start to click over into adulthood; it’s like a little death. No matter how far Jack clicked over into adulthood, I’d get him back for five glorious weeks a year
After the close shave, Tammaro never risked ruining the magic and his son didn’t visit him at Santaland again.
Within Macy’s, Tammaro says there’s a ‘whole Santa dressing room’ so the men can ensure they look perfect before stepping out in front of the public.
Describing the scene, he writes: ‘All the coats are on racks. All the wigs above them. There’s a big, long make-up table. The makeup department is world class. When I put everything on for the first time, and looked into the mirror, I saw Santa. It was like: “Holy s***, I can do this.”‘
During his posts, Tammaro reveals another sad moment in his life; the moment his son Jack also came to the realization that Santa wasn’t real.
For the ten years Tammaro had been working at Macy’s as Santa, he told his son he had been working in the men’s shoe department. He said every time he went to work it broke his heart a little, as he had to leave his son behind.
He explains: ‘The holidays were always rough for me. It was the busiest time a year at both my jobs, so I’d barely be home. Jack and I would be watching a holiday movie on the couch, his head on my chest, and I’d have to get up to go to work.
‘He’d pull me down by the shirt and say: “Don’t go.” He knew that I worked at Macy’s during Christmastime. But I told him that I worked in men’s shoes. I told him that I needed the extra money to buy everyone presents.’
For many years, Tammaro’s son was unsuspecting of his dad’s secret job and Tammaro said he tried to hold on to these years for as long as possible with ‘adulthood’ looming like a dark cloud.
He wrote in one post: ‘They don’t give you a pamphlet for it. When they start to click over into adulthood; it’s like a little death.
‘No matter how far [Jack] clicked over into adulthood, I’d get him back for five glorious weeks a year.
‘We didn’t have a fireplace in our apartment. We’d put the Christmas tree next to a window, and leave the window open. Jack would decorate a plate. Then on that plate we’d put out Santa’s favorite cookie—a big Linzer tart. Also happens to be my favorite cookie.
Tammaro (seen with a fellow Kris Kringle) recalls turning to another, more seasoned Macy’s Santa for advice after he secured his job at the department store
The first year that Tammaro took on the role of Santa, he had Jack come and sit on his knee – but he says the little boy immediately spotted that ‘Father Christmas’ sounded like his dad
After Jack ultimately discovered that Santa wasn’t real, Tammaro allowed his son to finally see him in the role, recalling how he ‘prepared to tell his son he’d been lying to him his entire life’. The pair are seen together during that moment
He told his son (seen with his parents): ‘Not only am I Santa Claus, but Mommy is Santa Claus. And Nonna is Santa Claus. And Uncle Steve is Santa Claus. And Uncle Anthony is Santa Claus’
‘I’d take a big bite of the tart and make some crumbs, and I’d drink the milk. Then the next morning he’d knock on our door at six o’clock, screaming: “He came! He came!”
‘It drove Tabatha crazy. Every Christmas, she’d say: “It’s out of control. You’re out of control. This is the year we have to tell him.” Second grade, third grade, fourth grade. Every time: “This is the year.” But I’d always say: “Not yet. When it’s time, it’s time. But one more year. Just give me one more year.”‘
Eventually the time came when Tammaro knew his son was ready to learn the truth after he came home from school and said that he had been talking with his friends and they’d come to the conclusion that it’s ‘logistically impossible’ for Santa to deliver presents to children all over the world.
The Macy’s Santa decided to tell his son everything when he came to visit him at Santaland on night.
Recalling the incident, when he was a ‘nervous wreck’, Tammaro wrote: ‘[I] prepared to tell my son that I’ve been lying to him his entire life.
St. Nicholas was just a man in a village, who gave presents to children. But he was so kind that people remembered his story
‘Jack comes in wearing my old leather jacket. And Tabatha’s red scarf. I say: “Hello, Merry Christmas.” And right away, he knows. He says: “What the hell, Dad?” I pat the bench next to me, and motion for him to sit down. I say: “Hey buddy, what’s up?”
‘I say: “I want you to know that I haven’t been working in men’s shoes these last ten years.” And he goes: “Really?” And I see it. I see it starting to click. “You’re right,” I tell him. “t’s impossible for Santa to do what he does in one night. But he did exist. His name was St. Nicholas.
“And he was so kind, and so giving, that his legend grew over hundreds of years. And now during Christmas, we keep his spirit alive by becoming Santa Claus. Not only am I Santa Claus, but Mommy is Santa Claus. And Nonna is Santa Claus. And Uncle Steve is Santa Claus. And Uncle Anthony is Santa Claus. And now, because you’re of age, I’ve brought you here. To bestow the power of Santa Claus onto you.”
‘He started to cry. And I started to cry.’
In one of his final posts, Tammaro sheds some light on the history of the Macy’s Santa, writing: ‘He was just a man. St. Nicholas was just a man in a village, who gave presents to children. But he was so kind that people remembered his story.
To date, each post telling Tammaro’s story have garnered tens and thousands of likes on Instagram with readers thanking him for sharing his tale
The comments sections have been filled with emotional responses, with @allisonrtyler writing: ‘These 15 posts were the magic my soul needed. Thank you’
‘They called him Santa. And in 1862 RH Macy put an ad in the paper, saying that Santa had come to his store. That’s how it all began: one man, one chair. Since that day only 275 men have worn this suit. And not to toot my own horn; but what I do, as this man, I take it very, very seriously…
‘I muster up all the joy and hope and wonder that I have in my being. All of my Christmas, I pour into this man.’
For those not able to visit Macy’s Santaland this year, Tammaro offers a taste of what the whole experience is like.
He concludes: ‘It’s a magic trick, a dupe. Nothing but an illusion. And it starts the moment you walk in the door. Biggest store in the world. Eight full floors of shopping. And Santaland is at the very top. You can take the elevators.
‘Or you can do what I did when I was a kid, and what I still do today: you take the escalators. Up, up, up. Through make-up. Through linens. Through housewares. Around the third floor, something happens. The escalators change to wood.
This is one of the most amazing and fascinating things I’ve ever read. Who would have thought that all of that even existed?
Instagram user @a_kennedy19
‘They’re over one hundred years old, these escalators. From the original Macy’s. When you see them, you know: very soon. You’re about to see Santa. Your heart starts racing. Up, up, up. Until finally you see it: the back of the line. A line like you wouldn’t believe. Real life is happening in that line. And you’re face-to-face with the grandest illusion of all: Me.’
To date, each post telling Tammaro’s story have garnered tens and thousands of likes on Instagram with readers thanking him for sharing his tale.
@allisonrtyler commented: ‘These 15 posts were the magic my soul needed. Thank you’, while @prattipatt exclaimed: ‘Good God Almighty! This is just the sweetest story ever!’
Meanwhile, @a_kennedy19 wrote: ‘This is one of the most amazing and fascinating things I’ve ever read. Who would have thought that all of that even existed?
‘Christmas is all about the feeling of magic & hope for not only children but for us adults as well. Only Christmas brings that specific warm fuzzy feeling to our hearts… with the help of amazing people like this guy!’
Some clamored for Tammaro’s story to be turned into a Christmas movie, with @newyorknico commenting on the very first post: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, you are embarking on a journey that is sure to be the new greatest Christmas movie of all time by 2024. Mark my words.’
Sympathizing with Tammaro’s pain at his son no longer ‘believing’ in Santa, @cheryllynneller added: ‘This is my youngest’s last year believing… I can tell she’s ‘playing along’ with some of it… my heart breaks a little every day. But the magic isn’t lost on her.’
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