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Santa Claus and the Whiskers To Prove It

All the pulling and tugging don't bother Jim Kurssi, aka Santa Claus, who sits in Santa's castle in Springfield Mall. Kurssi's beard is the real thing, so all the testing that the children do is for naught.

"I have more trouble with the mothers," Kurssi said. "They like to test it."

Kurssi has been at Springfield Mall for the last seven or eight years as Santa. With the real beard and a quiet demeanor, Kurssi is a respected Santa at the mall. At times, he's even asked to perform real miracles, but Kurssi's careful not to promise too much.

"I've had some kids come in, try to get the family back together. It's traumatic for them," he said.

Danny McGarvey, 4, was back for another year on Kurssi's lap. The Springfield child has been to this Santa before.

"I asked for a scooter and geo magnets," Danny said.

"This is his fourth year with the same Santa," Danny's mother, Sarah McGarvey, said.

Vicky Nottingham, 8, couldn't wait to go down her list with Santa. She wanted a puppy, a new baby sister and a scooter.

"He was going to be really nice. She'll give me the baby sister," Vicky said, pointing to her mother, "and Santa will bring the puppy."

Kurssi gets all kinds around Christmas, too, including teenagers and even a pair of seniors he's seen year after year. The seniors buy two sets of pictures and make Christmas cards with the picture.

"I see them at the senior movies," which is a special Springfield Mall has for seniors every week. "I'm there to greet them," he said.

Some children are so sold on the real beard, their secret is only for Santa, and they won't tell their parents what they've asked for.

"I've had them tell me what they want and then the parent comes back and asks what they said. You have to listen," he said.

When Kurrsi hears stories about an illness or getting the family back together, he avoids giving false hopes and tries to let the magic take over.

"I just tell them I'll say a prayer for them," he said.

The time leading up to Christmas is special for Kurssi, but after weeks of children climbing on his lap, tugging his beard, nothing is as special as Christmas Eve, when he breaks out the scissors and razor.

"This comes off on Christmas Eve," he said. "I start growing it in May."