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Santa Claus, in Rock Hill, talks about his favorite duties

The question made Santa Claus cry.

As he wiped away tears of joy, Santa Claus reflected on what he likes best about his job.

He didn't talk about toys or flying around the world on a sleigh led by Rudolph. Nor did he mention sampling the milk and cookies left for him.

He confided that children are often intimidated to talk to him. Using a few tricks of the trade, Santa puts them at ease. Then comes the best part of the job: The moment when a child smiles - and Santa smiles in return.

Maci Conty, a 4-year-old from Rock Hill, had just shared her list - and love - with Santa. The result was a big hug and smile. It's a scene repeated and repeated.

"It's joy and love magnified and reflected. It's intoxicating," Santa said from his temporary home at the Galleria in Rock Hill.

With economic times tight, some children who visit Santa in his stops around the world are aware of the struggles dad and mom are having to make ends meet, according to The Associated Press. Their wish lists are shorter and sometimes they are asking for help for their parents.

In Rock Hill, Santa said, some of the lists are shorter, but mostly "kids are still kids."

The youngest ask for toys or say, "surprise me," said Santa. Older children offer more specific wants.

Yet one young girl stole Santa's heart this year at the Galleria when she arrived with her list - six pages of carefully cut out pictures of what she wanted underneath the Christmas tree. Santa rolled out the list and held it next to the girl. It was longer than she was tall.

Another middle-school girl got his attention too. She asked Santa for a gun.

Santa thought she wanted a toy gun, but she said "no." She wanted a real gun because she was tired of having to borrow her father's when they went hunting.

Then there was the elderly woman who proved that Christmas is a holiday for children of all ages.

The woman quietly approached Santa when he was talking to a child. Santa asked her if he could help her. She replied she just wanted to get a good look at him, to see if he still looked like the Santa she remember as a little girl.

"You haven't changed a bit," the woman told Santa.

These are Santa's precious moments this year in Rock Hill.

I asked Santa how old he was. He replied that he didn't know. "That's part of the magic of Christmas."

So to his name. He answers to Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, Papa Noel, Saint Nicholas or Nick, Baba Chaghaloo in Afghanistan, Julemanden in Denmark and Julenissen in Norway.

Memorable gift requests in Rock Hill include children asking for sleds, Santa said. Perhaps, they are dreaming of a white Christmas or another winter show like last year. And almost every boy and girl, Santa said, is asking for a four-wheeler.

Some have more serious requests.

One boy, Santa said, asked for his father to come home for Christmas. The child and his family didn't know where he was.

"Santa's magic is gifts," he said. "We're not God and we can't bring people back. But you can empathize with a child."

Santa has a remembrance chain with red beads and sleigh bells. In situations like this, he will move a bead and tell the child he will "wish for it hard."

"You give them hope, and you hope with them," Santa said.

With less than a week to Christmas, I asked Santa what message he had for children.

He didn't talk about being naughty or nice.

Christmas, he said, "is about giving, loving and acceptance. Remember the true meaning of Christmas is about giving rather than receiving."