SOUTH PORTLAND — Santa Claus has come to town.

For 49 days from early November through Dec. 24, the jolly old elf sets up shop under a giant tree-like kiosk at the Maine Mall.

There, he spends eight hours a day, seven days a week taking Christmas requests from children and posing for photographs.

Beginning Dec. 15, Claus’ schedule jumps to 12 hours per day.

Claus wouldn’t discuss what he earns from his contract with the mall, but said he gets “paid in hugs,” which is the best part of the job.

“You can be having the worst day in the world, but when you get in here it changes in a minute,” he said.

When the work is slow, Claus treats himself to cookies from a nearby cookie shop. And, yes, the beard is real.

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