ELLENTON -- Santa Claus is on one-percent milk.
He is also, to his regret, on a diet that requires a baby carrot and a cookie instead of two cookies on Christmas Eve.
But children and adults in Manatee County can go to bed on Christmas Eve secure in the knowledge that, despite his occasional digestive and cholesterol issues, Santa will be working along side 1,000 elves who not only make millions of toys for boys and girls, but have a patented technique for miniaturizing them so they all fit in Santa’s sleigh.
“No matter what their age, Santa is there for all who believe,” said the white-bearded, dieting, George Caso, 69, of Ellenton.
Caso says he is a real Santa and will be on that sleigh Dec. 24. But, he says the details of how he came to be appointed Santa is a secret.
But what we do know is that Caso, ’er, Santa, was born in San Francisco, is married to Donna, who keeps the jolly one well-fed and drycleans his four red suits at Courtesy Cleaners in Ellenton.
We also know Santa is a proud member of VFW Post 10141 at 420 67th St. W., Bradenton, where he cooks his famous French toast $6 breakfasts (while wearing a VFW volunteer shirt) at 9 a.m. on the fourth Sunday of every month.
Caso has worked as a roofer, bartender, laborer, restaurant manager and did a stint in the U.S. Navy from 1959 to 1965. He worked for National Cash Register for 10 years.
He is now the owner of CasoStudios.com, a company that sells original giclee prints.
But everything he did in life was just preparation for his greatest role, being Santa these last decades for children of all ages, he said.
“People always wonder if they should believe in Santa,” Caso said this week. “Well, there are times I even doubted. But a spirit overtakes you when you climb into the red suit. When I get together with my brother Santas and we start talking about children we have visited and reindeer issues, I start believing all over again.”
Caso visits children at Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Manatee County, Manatee County Children’s Services and Tidwell Hospice.
He is scheduled to appear as Santa at The Riverhouse Beef & Grill, 995 Riverside Drive, Palmetto, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Dec. 11.
Caso and his wife celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary this past April.
“What is it like living with Santa?” Donna Caso said, while pondering the question. “Well, it’s always pretty cheerful around here. There’s always plenty of things to do. Santa is busy all year long.”
Donna doesn’t consider herself “Mrs. Claus,” because she’s a bit shy.
“I am always there in the background,” she said. “I can tell you when we had our first date, a picnic at an ocean setting in San Francisco, I never dreamed I would one day be staying at the North Pole.”
Caso loves being Santa and talks about the elves and reindeer with a reassuring familiarity.
“They are all sweet and love to kid around,” Caso said of the reindeer. “When their antlers are shedding, they can get mischievous and poke me with their antlers.”
As for his diet, it’s a sore subject.
“It’s crossed my mind that I should lose a pound or two,” Santa said. “I’m asking the kids to put out carrots and one percent milk this year, along with one cookie.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.