It should not surprise you that, in the world of professional wrestling, and in WWE in particular, Santa Claus has a complicated history.
Most infamously, the 1995 Christmas season saw Santa show up at WWE’s December pay-per-view event, the fifth show in their In Your House cut-price series. Flanked by Puerto Rican fan favorite Savio Vega, he was handing out presents to fans when “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s music started playing. DiBiase had long used “everybody’s got a price” as his catchphrase, and on this night, he immediately started taunting Vega, repeatedly saying that “I can buy you.” Oh, and he asked him to “bring your fat, jolly friend along with you” into the ring. Vince McMahon, nearing the end of his announcing career with his status as the owner of the company semi-obscured, immediately started telegraphing that something was about to happen. “Don’t tell me Savio Vega has sold out to Ted DiBiase,” he said solemnly. “I don’t believe this.” There was no reason to, based on what had happened so far, to think that Savio was about to go evil, which meant that McMahon had just shown a tell for what was about to happen.
Yes, Santa Claus turned evil.
After DiBiase ranted about how Vega and the fans were rubes for believing in Santa Claus, he gave the in-ring Santa a cue by saying “BELIEVE THIS, my friend!” Santa nailed Savio with his sack of gifts, and DiBiase joined Saint Nick in the beatdown. “I can’t believe what we’re seeing!” bellowed McMahon. “THAT CAN’T BE THE REAL SANTA CLAUS!” After DiBiase delivered the kicker to close the segment, that even Santa has a price, McMahon got even more indignant. “NO! SAY IT’S NOT SO! SAY IT’S NOT SO! SANTA CLAUS SOLD OUT TO TED DIBIASE, THE MILLION DOLLAR MAN! I DON’T BELIEVE IT! I DON’T BELIEVE THAT’S THE REAL SANTA CLAUS! I CAN’T BELIEVE SANTA CLAUS WOULD DESECRATE SANTA CLAUS AND DISPARAGE THE SPIRIT OF SANTA CLAUS!” After a brief comeback by Savio, yanking the less than jolly fellow’s wig off in the process, McMahon was simultaneously relieved and more angry. “THAT’S NOT SANTA CLAUS! THAT’S NOT SANTA AT ALL! THAT’S NOT SANTA! WHO IS THAT!?!?”
The man under the wig and beard was the Jonathan Rechner, best known to most wrestling fans as Balls Mahoney. At the time, he was just weeks removed from a stint in the regional promotion Smoky Mountain Wrestling (SMW) as Boo Bradley, a lovable simpleton who had been manipulated and abused by childhood acquaintance Chris Candido, who withheld and eventually killed Boo’s cat, Boots. (Don’t ask.) SMW had closed after disappointing business over Thanksgiving weekend, and with promoter Jim Cornette migrating to the WWE creative team, SMW talent started to trickle into the company.
In WWE, if he wasn’t Santa Claus, who was he? The answer came the next night on Monday Night Raw: He was Xanta Claus from the South Pole, who steals presents. After a match on the weekend Superstars show days later, that was the last anyone ever heard of Xanta Claus. In the January 6, 1996 issue of the Pro Wrestling Torch, Wade Keller reported that Rechner was fired, citing that “the concept ran out of steam after Christmas was over (big surprise there) and Rickner wasn’t exactly popular in the locker room,” as “apparently he came off to others as if he thought he was a big shot.”
While no pro wrestling usage of Santa was more egregiously weird and reality-bending as the Xanta Claus saga, it was far from the only time that Santa has gotten in on the action in pro wrestling. In WWE, no such incident has been replayed more than the one from 1997 where another “fake Santa” — whose voice sounded suspiciously like that of “Brooklyn Brawler” Steve Lombardi — interacted with Steve Austin. Having ejected a child from the ring for realizing that he wasn’t “the real Santa,” the imposter earned an interrogation from “Stone Cold,” who wanted to know what he asked for when he was six years old. “I think it was a Barbie doll and tiddlywinks,” he replied. “Yes, that’s what it was Mr. Austin.”
Austin asked him to stand up and baited him into position to take his Stone Cold Stunner finishing move. Since then, it’s been a staple of year-end WWE programming, complete with the soundbite of Jim Cornette, on commentary, declaring that “he cracked Kris’s Kringle!”
As you might be able to deduce from the above, if, in WWE canon, these men were impersonating Santa Claus, that means Santa Claus is real. To wit, the year before Xanta Claus became a thing, the 1994 Christmas weekend episode of Wrestling Challenge was hosted by DiBiase and “Gorilla Claus,” who was ostensibly Gorilla Monsoon in a Santa outfit. As was the norm in those days, the announcers were semi-crudely green-screened into the arena, which made the whole thing a bit confusing since the same matches aired with different announcers on USA Network’s Action Zone most weeks.
After an hour of back-and-forth banter between DiBiase and Gorilla Claus, DiBiase told his co-host that he could reach into the sack of cash he brought with him and pull out one bill. As Gorilla Claus pulled out several, who showed up suddenly in street clothes… but Gorilla Monsoon, who “got hung up a the airport.” Gorilla Claus immediately ran away, with Monsoon greeting him as “Santa” as they crossed paths. The implication, of course, was that the guy who just bolted — and who conspicuously had a bigger fake beard than in previous on-cameras while suddenly not speaking — was The Real Santa Claus.
Going back even further, Roddy Piper saved Christmas from Bobby Heenan five years earlier, when “The Brain” told the viewers of Prime Time Wrestling that his Santa costume was proof that jolly old Saint Nick wasn’t real.
As dumb as all of this sounds, and as symptomatic as it is of the cartoonish world that WWE was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it also makes perfect sense. Pro wrestling is Santa Claus. Pro wrestling is best when you suspend disbelief and just let go. So if WWE wants to address its fanbase as if Santa is real, more power to them. And lest you think that this is something that stopped decades ago, it’s not: Just six years ago, Alberto Del Rio, in the midst of a character turn from a materialistic villain to the hero of WWE’s significant Latinx fanbase, accidentally ran over Santa Claus with his car. It was treated as a serious matter and a big deal, as well it should be. Because what would WWE be in a world without Santa Claus?