When convincing a child on the other end of a phone line you’re Santa Claus, having the right voice goes a long way.
“Ho ho ho! How are you today Peyton?” says Merrimack police officer Greg Walters. "Good. Have you been a good boy? You have? Are you helping out mom and dad around the house?"
Walters is one of the officers in the department who makes calls to unsuspecting and, at times, speechless children as part of the town’s Santa Calling program.
In its fifth year, the program is organized by the parks and recreation department. Parents can request a call from Santa at a specific time.
The program has grown over the years. Last week, the department made nearly 50 calls.
Wednesday night at department headquarters, Walters and Sgt. Ted Dillon split the duties.
But a hearty "ho ho ho" isn’t always enough to get a child to believe they have real Jolly Old Saint Nick on the line.
These secret Santas know it’s the small details that count.
“Other family members, pets names, stuff like that to make it more realistic, cause sometimes some of the kids are on the fence until you start pulling out some of the things they thought you would never know," says Dillon. "They’re a little hesitant, thinking that Santa’s really calling them, but we make them all believers by the time we’re done.”
The first call of the night for Dillon was to the niece and nephew of Lt. Dan Edmonds, a colleague in the department.
To prepare, Dillon goes through notes with their names, memorizing lists of presents and other specifics.
"I got my cup of water, I got my kids’ pictures on the wall, so the festive season’s in the air," Dillon says.
He got into character and dialed the number.
"Ho ho ho! Is Damien there?" Dillon says, using his best Santa voice. "Hi Damien! Are you at Auntie Pam’s house making me cookies?"
"Yes," he replies.
"What kind of cookies?"
"Those are my favorite."
Damien was clearly in awe, especially when Santa had some very specific information about what he wanted for Christmas.
"Do you have a story about a Nintendo DS?" Dillon says.
"I’ve always wanted one," says Damien.
At times, it was tough to tell who was having more fun: the children or the officers getting to play the part.
Lt. Edmonds says the program brings the spirit of Christmas into the department.
“As soon as we start talking to the kids, the excitement comes out in their voice and it just makes us go on even more and more," Edmonds says. "I’ll tell ya, we get a kick out of this. You can hear it in our voices as we’re portraying Santa Claus. We’re his helpers.”
Before hanging up, Officer Walters made sure to give Peyton something to remember in the final days before Christmas: Santa is always watching.