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Some people have hobbies. Personal injury lawyer Dana Friedman has a seasonal alter ego. Every year, the Bayside father begins growing out his beard in July. Two months later, he stops watching his calories. By October, he's watching the film "Miracle on 34th Street" in preparation of his transformation into jolly old St. Nick. "It's the most ridiculous job that anyone could ever think of, but it's got to be the most fun," Friedman, 50, said of his ninth season as Santa. "There's nothing more rewarding than seeing a child's face light up."
Friedman, who is Jewish, was inspired to become Father Christmas after the World Trade Center was reduced to a smoldering rubble a block away from his office. Suddenly, his firm Kleinberg & Friedman was being asked to donate money to a variety of new charities that had sprung up seemingly overnight, he said.
Wary of where the money was going, his office created Laws for the Claus instead. The program provides charities with toys and Santa visits. He also does additional appearances on the side when the Santa season kicks off after Thanksgiving. "It hopefully brings joy to a lot of kids and adults who might not otherwise see Santa," Friedman said of his merry making. "What I get out of it is the sheer joy of doing it."
And he takes the job very seriously. He earned a certificate from the International University of Santa Claus about five years ago. During the two-day course, he learned tricks of the Santa trade. "One thing Santa does is he never promises anything that he himself will not deliver," Friedman said. And "when you're taking pictures with anybody it's very important that Santa have both hands visible."
He used what he learned in class and his years spreading holiday cheer to pen a 500-page manuscript on how to be Kris Kringle. "I call it 'The North Pole’s Guide to All Things Santa,'" Friedman said of the book he's been shopping around to publishers. One chapter is on one of his least favorite parts of the job - the Santa suit. He owns three hand-made costumes, which each weigh more than 100 pounds. "The whole suit is incredibly hot," said Friedman, who stuffs cooling packs inside them. "The boots are heavy and hard to walk in ... [and] it's very difficult to go to the bathroom."
But visiting the sick and injured kids at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children, in Bayside, is worth it, he said. Some of the hospital's nearly 100 charges may not make it to another holiday season. "He brings the magic of the holidays here," said hospital spokeswoman Leslie Johnson. "He spends time with the children and makes them feel special."
After learning that Friedman was planning to visit the hospital, Salon Deana in Astoria spearheaded a toy drive for the children. The Bayside YMCA is also collecting toys for the kids. Hundreds more are to be donated by a manager at Manhattan’s famed Katz's Delicatessen. Faye, who declined to give her last name, met Friedman after he wandered into the deli last week in full Santa regalia following an appearance. She was so touched by his work that she donated hundreds of Beanie Babies she had sitting in a Manhattan storage unit, she said.
But Friedman may soon get a run for his money. His 8 year old son accompanies him on many of his Santa visits. "He wears his own Santa suit and he refers to himself as Little Claus," Friedman said. "When the time comes, he's taking over the job."
You’ve seen him in the malls…
You’ve seen him at your home…
You’ve seen him on the streets…
Now you can see him on television and the internet…
James Leung, 3, has a jolly time when Santa, aka lawyer Dana Friedman, visits the YMCA Early Childhood Program in Bayside.