On a recent frosty morning, Dana Friedman was making Christmas toys in his Queens garage. He glued pom-poms and popsicle sticks to a ceramic reindeer head, which he'll later take to his office in Manhattan's financial district where he works as a personal injury lawyer.
Friedman's garage workshop is a mixture of mirth and mayhem. Stuffed teddy bears, marbles and wrapping paper fill dozens of bins and boxes. He begins making toys as early as February, and as the seasons change, the contents shift and the red ribbon bought on sale after Valentine's Day is soon joined by cheap green trinkets purchased after St. Patrick's Day.
In September, he begins to fill a wall of empty Xerox boxes at his firm, Kleinberg and Friedman, with stuffed toys and presents. Then, as early as Thanksgiving, Friedman will pack away his client files, pull on his professional Santa suit and begin deliveries to thousands of children across the city.
"I don't think I ever wanted to be a lawyer," says Friedman. "When I'm in court representing my clients, I'm definitely a lawyer first. Outside of that venue, I'm probably Santa first."
There's no denying that Friedman, 54, looks the part. "He's certainly fat enough," says his paralegal Pat Florio, who's worked with him for more than 20 years.
Friedman does have Santa-like heft: he's short and stocky. But that's not the only resemblance. There's also a tuft of snowy beard that Friedman will start sprouting into fleece six months before the holiday season. Florio also points out his apple cheeks and bulbous nose.
Often Friedman uses the likeness to his advantage in court, sprucing up his three-piece suit with a splash of red or adding Santa's round gold-framed glasses to impress judge and jury. "Is a jury going to find against Santa?" asks Friedman "I don't think so."
Friedman claims the two vocations go well together. "Acting in court is definitely part of being a lawyer," which helps him play the part of St. Nick.
Though at some point, it hardly feels like acting, he adds. As soon as he buttons his $600 embroidered suit over the 200 pounds of foam padding and cooling gel packs he has strapped on underneath, "I stop being me," he says, "And then it's all Santa."
Today, Friedman is wearing faded jeans and a white polo bearing his trademarked logo "New York Santa." At other times, Friedman's "civilian" clothes consist of a long black coat, bowler hat and walking cane.
"I kind of strive to look like the Edmund Gwynn character in the end of 'Miracle on 34th Street'," says Friedman.
But it's hard to imagine Gwynn crawling out from beneath the gull-wing doors of a silver DeLorean – Friedman's vehicle of choice - better known as the time-traveling device in the "Back to the Future" films. "And that, kids, is how Santa flies around the world in just one night," explains Friedman.
How did Friedman, who grew up in a single-child Jewish family eating Chinese food on Christmas Day, come to take on the Santa mantle?
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Friedman was driving through rush-hour traffic into Manhattan when the two jets struck the World Trade Center towers half a block from Kleinberg and Friedman. Florio was in the office at the time.
"You could just see the bodies coming out of the building," she remembers. "I can still feel the fireball on my face from just looking out the window."