In 1995, Frank Pascuzzi’s sister-in-law asked if he would dress up as Santa Claus for several hours at her Christmas party.
“She knew I was a Christmas fanatic who always wanted to play Santa,” he said. “I didn’t look like Santa back then, but I was 6 feet tall, around 250 pounds and had a deep laugh. I sprayed my black hair with white paint and rented the suit.”
The experience, he added, was both enjoyable and enlightening. “I didn’t realize how wonderful it would make me feel or that I had something special to offer. Suddenly Christmas meant something again. As an adult you lose that magic. That night it came back.”
Four years later, he took his son to Macy’s to see Saint Nick. He had put on about 150 pounds by then and, embracing the holiday spirit, said he wore a Santa hat and sprayed his beard white for the occasion. While waiting in line, he was approached by a floor manager who asked if he would be interested in a job.
“For the next five years during the holiday season I dressed as Santa and saw 1,000 children a day on the weekends,” he said. From there, he began playing Santa year-round at both private parties and corporate events.
Suits were custom made. Fake beards and wigs were replaced with his real hair, colored white. In 2012, Mr. Pascuzzi, 63, who lives with his wife, Betty Pascuzzi, in Copiague, N.Y., legally changed his name to Santa Claus. (Ms. Pascuzzi, he said, is the only person who still calls him Frank.)
In 2015, he became an ordained minister through the Universal Life Church so that he could officiate at the wedding of a couple he had become friendly with. “Everyone came up to me afterward to say how much they loved the ceremony,” Mr. Claus said. “I’d found my place.”
Now he does three or four weddings a year, “mostly at Christmastime,” and charges $400 to officiate in either a full red suit, or a black or red tuxedo, he said. (For other events and parties, he charges between $500 and $700 an hour.) “I don’t advertise, so it’s either people who know me or through word of mouth.”
Why do people want to be married by Santa?
They want something different. I symbolize something happy and positive. I help people forget about life’s problems. Bringing joy to others is part of the fantasy. Having me officiate says they want to start their marriage and their life together in a happy, optimistic way.
What is your officiating process?
I send the couple a questionnaire with 20 or 25 questions. The goal is to give them an opportunity to have real conversations about everything and anything, to spark discoveries and let them see another part of the person they’re marrying. Questions range from “Who will do the cooking and dishes?” to “How many children do you want to have?” Some send them back; others don’t. I don’t care about the answers, it’s a way for them to get to know each other, even if they think they already do.
What is the next step?
If they live nearby, I meet them at a diner so I can get a feel for who they are. They tell me their love story and how they met. I ask them to share anything that’s funny, quirky, and weird that has happened, as I love to weave that, and the serious parts, into the service. The couple never knows what I’m going to say, so it’s a surprise to everyone. Sometimes I write their vows; sometimes they do. I’m also at the rehearsal dinner.
What are some of the wackiest things you’ve added to your ceremony?
I once did the vows in the form of Dr. Suess: Will you love her in a boat? Will you love her in a coat? Will you love her in a house? Will you love her as your spouse?
How do you end each ceremony?
I ask them, “If you have an argument, how will you figure out who wins?” Then I give them a fake gold marriage coin. One side says “hers” the other says “his.” I tell them to flip the coin and whatever it lands on, that’s who wins and the other has to respect that. They agree while they’re standing in front of me. I’d be surprised if anyone actually did it. What I’m really trying to do is find a way for them to avoid arguments. Most people don’t know how to argue correctly or healthily, or to do it in a way that doesn’t hurt each other.
What’s the biggest takeaway you want couples to have?
Love is hard. Staying in love is even harder. I want them to know each other more than “I love you.” I realized during my first marriage, which only lasted 10 years, that we had far less in common than I thought. And we didn’t have intimate conversations. To a lot of people love is just an emotion. An emotion can go away or change. After a while, that emotion becomes a decision. And that decision to stay in love with someone is one you make every day. Sometimes it’s a decision you make every hour.
You’ve been married to your second wife for 29 years. What have you learned from that marriage?
To pick my arguments and to only argue over the important things, to take a step back or to stop the argument before it gets out of control. Once you say something hurtful, you can’t take it back. I’ve learned to communicate better, to have more patience and to perceive situations differently. If you don’t communicate, your relationship will fall apart. Don’t go to sleep angry. It’s basic, but ridiculously true. Because that’s how you will feel when you wake up, feeling angry. That’s a terrible feeling and a horrible way to start your day. You’re never going to know everything about the other person, but the more you know the better your relationship will be.
What is your favorite moment in a wedding ceremony?
When the couple kisses and everyone is standing up and cheering. It’s a successful moment and the beginning of their life together. I’m a small piece of that moment by legally bringing together two people who love each other. That’s extremely fulfilling.