REDFORD, Mich. - Chocolate chip cookies were fresh out of the oven.
Spike Jones crooned about how all he wanted for Christmas was his two front teeth.
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In the kitchen, a to-do list read: "Santa suit, work on Santa bag, AA batteries, patches for pants, chiro 10:30 Tues."
Santa, it seems, has some back trouble after carrying around that heavy sack of toys.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Claus wore their favorite color, red, of course, as they settled into a soft chair and sofa in their Redford, Mich., house.
The jolly couple, also known as Julie and Brian Campbell, told the story about how they met in 2003 at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Mich., and fell in love under the mistletoe.
At that point, Julie had been going to Santa school for almost a decade, helping to teach Santas how to treat Mrs. Claus when she goes out with them to events with children.
"I picked the best Santa there," she said of Brian, now 58, who thought learning to be Santa might be a good fit for him, given that he has almost always worn a full beard.
"He really loves what he does, and so do I."
Love blossoms slowly
At first, they were friends. They worked together as Santa and Mrs. Claus. Brian thought there might be something special in her. He invited Julie out to dinner.
"I had no idea it was a date; he told me he wanted to 'pick my brain,' " said Julie, now 52.
Brian knew that night, as the wind pulled open the restaurant door, that there was something special about Julie.
"She flung out that door, and the wind caught it, and she kind of laughed about it," he said. "She has a different personality that brings out my lighter side. ... She can laugh about things that I'd get upset about. She smooths me all out."
After that night, the two began a courtship that has lasted almost eight years.
Brian proposed to Julie in Barbados in 2005, hoping to make an honest woman of Mrs. Claus.
She said yes, and the couple was wed the following year, surrounded by bouquets of red and white flowers.
Holly Valent, the assistant to the dean at Santa school, was surprised when she learned Brian and Julie were going to be married.
"Oh, I know there were love connections made at Santa school," said Valent. "We've had romances, but I only know of two who went on to get married," Julie and Brian, plus another couple from Ohio.
"Santa is about love, so it's nice when you can share it with a spouse. It's special.
"They support each other, and want the other to be the best. They can come home and talk and critique each other, too. ... It's something they can enjoy together, the fun and the cute, cute stories."
Brian and Julie sometimes work together in the winter months as Santa and Mrs. Claus. After the holidays, they go back to being just Brian and Julie Campbell. He dyes his hair back to its natural reddish color, and she sheds her wig.
But every December, he shines his massive belt buckle and dons his Santa hat adorned with a photo of her "because she's always on my mind."
And she fusses with his coat and checks his beard to make sure Santa is ready for a full line up of pint-size lap-sitters.
Santa sees all
"I want a four-wheeler and a motorcycle!" shouted 6-year-old Calil Washington as he climbed onto Santa's lap on a Friday night in mid-December.
"I don't know," he said. "You have to be pretty big to get a motorcycle. Are you doing pretty good in school? Are you helping mom around the house?"
Calil's eyes grew wide, and he nodded, then added to his list: "And I want a dog,
Santa made no promises, but said he'll have to talk with Calil's mom and will try to make sure he has a nice Christmas.
The boy smiled for a photo and hopped down as more children entered the room.
And so it went for more than an hour.
The children ask for Bob the Builder toys, an XBox One, baby dolls, stuffed animals, an elf and a Barbie.
"Santa is not a disciplinarian, but he's busted some kids," Mrs. Claus explains. "He'll say, 'Make sure when you put your toys away, you don't shove them under the bed or cram them in the closet.'
"That's just something most kids do. It's rare you meet up with a kid who is a neatnik. It's usually something you can get them on."
Believe in your heart
When Caden Short, 4, of Farmington Hills, Mich., got his turn on Santa's lap, he wrapped his little arms around his neck and gave Santa a huge hug.
Santa hugged him back.
Being Santa, he said, gives him a window into the magic, to see "the joy that everybody has on their face. ... You're looking at these kids, and they're smiling so big, and then you look at the mom and the dad, and they're smiling just as big as the kids are because they remember.
"The other day, I was at the zoo, and there was a little boy who did not want to come up on Santa's lap. I was talking to him kind of low, and I said, 'Mom would like a picture of you and me for Christmas. That would be a great Christmas present.' And wouldn't you know, he climbed on my lap! That mom's jaw dropped. I created magic for her that day."
Mrs. Claus stacked red, green and white Rainbow Loom bracelets up one arm to give away to the children. "I hear these are the big thing this year," she said. Then, she checked her Santa watch.
"The more you believe in your heart that you are (Santa and Mrs. Claus), the more it comes out because you become that character," said Mrs. Claus. "The kids can really get into the fact that you are Santa and you are Mrs. Claus, and the more everyone else believes that, too.
"Santa represents love and giving, and that's the whole part of Christmas feeling."
(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)