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A mall Santa on his 39th year shares his stories, and a few secrets

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Back to Christmas now. In the world of Santas, there are amateurs and there are rock stars. But this holiday, NPR's Bill Chappell found a local legend.

BILL CHAPPELL, BYLINE: Somewhere in Maryland, there's a mantel with a framed photo of a raccoon sitting on Santa's lap.

LUKE DURANT: (Laughter) There's a raccoon had a muzzle on, so - white Santa. I've held these snakes, the raccoons, everything.

CHAPPELL: Some families and their pets drive hours to see the legendary Santa Luke. He's been a fixture at Baltimore's Mondawmin Mall for nearly 40 years.

DURANT: Wearing this uniform - I don't call it a costume - this uniform, it has a - you have to wear it with pride. You have to have a good heart. And you have to make people feel better after leaving you than receiving you.

CHAPPELL: Over the decades, Santa Luke, aka Luke Durant, has heard Christmas wishes from thousands of children. Some marched right up to him. Others need more convincing. Little Kensington White is really into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so naturally he asked Santa for...

KENSINGTON WHITE: Nunchucks (ph).

CHAPPELL: But Santa Luke says some requests you don't forget.

DURANT: Santa, can you bring my daddy back? I said, well, I can't bring your daddy back, but I can assure you one thing - you will see your mommy, your daddy again if they've lost them. Thank you, Santa. They give me - I give them a little hug. Like, again, I say, no matter how old the age or whatever, you got to make people feel better.

CHAPPELL: Bill Chappell, NPR News.

DETROW: You can find more about Santa Luke on npr.org and on the Sunshine Project, a new series celebrating joy and hope on the NRP app. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.