Santa Claus has one big wish for himself this Christmas.

He’d like to be able to speak to the children in all the languages they speak. So far, he’s fine in English and doing pretty well in Spanish, thanks to some training in special Christmas words, he said.

Santa, aka Phil Cayton, is busy with several tasks around the halls of Texas City’s First United Methodist Church. There are children there for Mother’s Day Out and kids from an after-school tutoring program who call him Santa all the time and don’t seem to care whether it is Christmas or not.

It’s the real white beard and the smiling face that keep them loving him.

Cayton inherited the job from a former church member, and had such a good time he scrapped the elderly church-owned Santa suit for a newer, nicer one.

“I began just at the church, but sometimes went outside on the street corner and waved and talked to people who would stop,” he said. “I love the joy in kids’ faces. I began to do private parties and some schools began to ask for me.”

Cayton said he took requests not only from the children, but their teachers. “Santa exists as long as you believe,” he said. “I try to give people hope, and a giving spirit and a type of faith not necessarily related to God.”

He listens to parents, as well as children, and insists that the parents stay close by. “They tell me deeper desires.”

“One blind man told me his wish was to be able to see his son’s eyes,” he said. “I told him I wished for him to be able to see his son’s eyes in his mind.”

That was very touching.

A miracle occurred after Cayton had been playing Santa for quite a while, using a fake beard. “About 10 or 12 years ago, within about a two month time, my beard turned completely white,” he said. “Nobody in my family has ever had white hair.”

He realized the beard was a definite sign of his Santa-ness.

“When children ask if I am Santa, I tell them I am one his helpers. Santa can’t listen to all the children, so he has helpers.”

Cayton said he and his wife, Lynda, pull the suit out and clean it each year and get all excited. Lynda is his Mrs. Claus.

One wish not fulfilled for him, as yet, is a desire to be Santa in the Texas City parade.

“I dress up in my Santa workshop outfit, red overalls and a plaid shirt, and watch the parade and wave at the children, who always wave back,” he said.

He does not charge, but takes an occasional contribution to buy candy canes. He gives out gifts at the Resource and Crisis Center. He advises the many kids who want pets for Christmas to check with the local shelters.

Wherever he goes, Cayton says, “I always say merry Christmas and remind everyone to keep Christ in Christmas.”

Cayton said he gets much more out of being Santa than any of the children.

“Besides all the joy, I look good in red,” he added.

Cathy Gillentine is a Daily News columnist. She may be reached at

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