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Better not pout, because Santa's already in town
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GAINESVILLE - Hang your stockings and say your prayers, because Santa Claus comes tonight.

But the jolly old elf already has been spotted in town, as Gainesville's real Santa has been making numerous visits in Northeast Georgia and has seen hundreds of children. He took a few minutes from visiting with children Friday at Peach State Bank in Gainesville to give The Times some insight into the life of Santa.

Gainesville's Santa, a member of the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas, has a North Pole driver's license, his own $1 million bill and real white hair and beard.

"I was totally white (haired) at 40," Santa said. "As my mother was when she was 40, as her mother was when she was 40 - and my uncle."

Santa joined the order as a charter member when there were only about 100 members. Now the group has some 1,400 members internationally and is expecting hundreds of Santa's brothers and descendants at next summer's convention, according to the group's Web site.

Gainesville's Santa also has a master's degree in Santa Clausology from the International University of Santa Claus. And, of course, Santa has his own Web site,, sponsored by North Georgia Sleigh Repair. The site features photos of Santa, as well as an elf cam, singing reindeer and a chance to e-mail your Christmas list to Santa.

Santa makes public and private appearances and does a special day-after-Christmas visit to his own grandchildren in North Carolina. He stops to give Rudolph and the other reindeer a rest on their way back to the North Pole.

Soon after his visits to Gainesville, Santa planned to hurry back to the North Pole to get ready for Christmas Eve. Santa said the elves and Santa's favorite helper have been working on the final details to get everything ready for tonight's very important flight.

"The elves at the North Pole have everything lined up to load up the sleigh in order of where we're going," he said. "Making sure that Barnaby, Santa's favorite helper, has gotten all the lists ready and has the proper order to make sure we won't make any errors in delivery."

Santa whispered that he likely will be taking a nap prior to heading out tonight, as he's been pretty busy with personal visits in the past week. And, he's been fighting a bit of a cold, too.

But come tonight, Santa said not only can you track his trip around the globe via, you also can look for him in the sky.

"Christmas Eve, look out in the horizon in the sky, and if it's not cloudy - we hope there is rain - but if it's not cloudy, watch for a white light in the sky," he told parents recently as their children finished up a visit with Santa.

Though Santa is an icon of the holiday season, he does want people to remember the real reason for the season.

"It's Jesus' birthday! Ho, ho, ho!"

Even though tonight is Santa's busiest night of the year, what does he do the rest of the year? Santa is retired from his career in sales, but in the off-season he does home inspections, featuring - you guessed it - chimney checks.