Santa Lives, Virginia, and This St. Nick Has the Papers to Prove It

updated 12/20/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/20/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

Here's his driver's license, and there's his name, right next to the picture of the guy in the white beard and red suspenders: "Santa Claus." Really. The address on it isn't the North Pole, though; it's Torrance. And it isn't a license to drive reindeer. This California Claus drives a 1960 Eldorado.

Santa, 64, made it official last June, when he went to L.A. Superior Court to legally change his name from Winfred Eugene Holley (yes, Holley). "He's not a nut," says court commissioner Bertrand D. Mouron Jr. "He's the essence of Santa Claus."

"I don't want to be a fake Santa," Claus says. "We've got enough of them." Santa spends his time visiting children in hospitals, passing out candy canes, and answering letters sent to him at P.O. Box 1616, North Pole 90505. A retired aircraft maintenance contractor who gets by on a veteran's pension, Santa began the part after he spent six unshaven weeks in Canada's Vancouver Island wilderness in 1976. People started telling him he looked like you-know-who. "I couldn't see the resemblance," Claus concedes. "Then I looked hard in the mirror and, by gosh, I could see it—if I smiled."

Santa speaks of his former self in the third person. "Holley used to drink quite a bit," he says, "but he decided he should stop a few years back, so he stopped. He also stopped smoking because Santa Claus doesn't smoke." A native of Hamlin, Texas, Santa is diplomatically discreet about the existence of a current Mrs. Claus, but as Holley he had three children.

Kids are inevitably drawn to Claus. "I have to keep moving," says Santa, who wears a conventional red suit year-round. He discovered his special charisma one day when he encountered a screaming child in a supermarket. "I just tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'Shhh,' " Claus recalls. "His eyes bulged and he stopped." Being Santa isn't always a sleigh ride, however. One day two motorists were so distracted by the sight of St. Nick tooling by that they took wrong turns and had a head-on collision.

He gets hung up on a lot. And when he went to get a new driver's license armed with his legal papers, Santa apprehensively asked the clerk whether further proof was needed. She looked up at the red suit and white beard and said: "You're proof enough."

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