EL CERRITO -- Who knew this city was the home of Santa's elf-in-chief?
During the holiday season, Leslie Tyler tackles questions like, "How does Santa get in if there's no chimney?" and "Doesn't Santa sweat in that red suit?" But instead of Santa's factory at the North Pole, the El Cerrito resident works from the offices of Pearl.com in San Francisco's Presidio.
Tyler, 44, is an employee of Pearl.com, a website that connects people with certified professionals who answer questions about legal, medical and other issues. She is the firm's vice president of marketing, but along with 11 other employees in the office, she also answers questions sent to Santa during the holidays.
This is the second year Pearl.com has offered the service; 1,000 questions came in last year, and it looks like this year will bring even more, Tyler said. Youngsters who want to email Santa can do so from www.asksanta.pearl.com.
"I never thought I would be an elf-in-chief someday," Tyler said, "but I really love it. Some of the questions are hilarious, some are heart-wrenching, but we know we're filling a need." There is no charge for the service.
One youngster gave a twist to a popular question, asking, "How does Santa get in if there's no chimney?" and adding, "We also have an alarm system, but I can't give you the code. Sorry!"
Tyler responded, "Usually if there's no chimney, Santa uses the door. Santa has magic dust that turns off the alarm and turns it back on when he leaves."
Asked Santa's age, she said, "Santa is so old he stopped counting around 73 or so."
The child who asked, "Doesn't Santa sweat in that red suit?" got the reply, "Santa flies pretty high and it's cold up there. You're riding in the sleigh and it goes pretty fast, so you need warm clothes."
Tyler has had plenty of practice fielding questions about Santa from her two children, who are 8 and 10 years old. Tyler and her husband moved to the El Cerrito hills near Del Norte Bart from Richmond in 1998.
"Having two children helped me fine-tune my Santa question answering skills," she said. That's where she came up with the concept of magic dust as a good all-around answer to pragmatic questions. "I say it's magic how Santa gets down the chimney even though he's so big," Tyler said.
In addition to deploying the magic dust ruse when necessary, other skills for the job include being a good writer, "since you are responding in writing," Tyler said. Also, "You have to like the holidays and the spirit of Santa we are trying to create," said Tyler, who has worked for Pearl.com for a year and a half.
The company is around nine years old. Pearl.com will be donating $1 for every Santa question asked to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
Some of the questions are heartbreaking. "One child said, 'Dear Santa, why do you not get presents to poor children in Africa? My mom said some of them have rags for clothes and drink dirty water,'" Tyler recalled.
Tyler responded, "Santa loves to bring presents to all the children in the world. Sometimes some get missed and Santa is very sad about that."
Another tough one: "Santa, do you ever diet?" The response: "If I went on a diet, I would never be able to enjoy all the cookies that children leave for me on Christmas Eve. Ho, ho, ho ... no diets for me! I am also very active throughout the year, so Mrs. Claus is always telling me to eat."
This last response won the approval of Cynthia Lubow, an El Cerrito-based marriage and family therapist who has been in practice for the last 25 years.
"I think it's pretty rare to have somebody be so sensitive to issues that are important to how kids deal with eating disorder possibilities, health and nutrition and race and inclusion issues," Lubow said.
In response to the question, "Why isn't there a black Santa Claus?" Tyler answered, "Some people are born African American, some white. Santa was born white."
Lubow said, "It sounds like she's (Tyler) really having to cover the whole span of things kids deal with. It's an interesting concept to have a social network to make Santa more accessible."