I show more wear and tear than the jolly red Santa suit my mother made for me over forty years ago. Someone in my home in the mid-70’s decided that the two toddler grandsons/nephews should get a visit from old Saint Nick. Being the least nimble amongst my brothers to skirt household chores, it was up to me at 17 years and thin as a rail to rally to the cause. Mom made a lot of clothes for her herd of children over the years so a Santa suit was not an impossible task. I don’t know how I looked but my now 45-year-old nephew tells me I fooled him.
Some twenty years later I wore it when our own kids were two and three. With lots of kids on the block I made quite a few visits to homes up and down the street. This reminded me of one of my dad’s best friends, Mr. Moser, who did the same in our town when I was little. Something always nagged at my right brain that Santa sounded a lot like the always jovial Mr. Moser but my left brain always talked the right side out of it. “This is Santa, you numbskull,” the left side persuasively intoned, “you better get in line and tell him what you want!”
My greatest claim to fame was visiting my son’s kindergarten class and fooling him as he sat on Santa’s knee to recite his wish list. I had convinced myself I did such a wonderful job of playing the jolly old man that even my own son couldn’t tell. And I did the same with my daughter the following year. I’ve since come to realize that young kids don’t spill the beans because, well, like most of us, they want to believe in Santa. Their little brains and synapses are well enough formed to know not to upset the apple cart. What do you get if you finally figure it out? You get your ticket punched to the real world and all its non-Santa, non-magical ordinariness. There must be a hardwired pheromone in our toddler DNA that shields these little brains from processing what they see and hear (gosh, Santa’s nose looked just like Daddy’s!) and glossing over the evidence. Little kids believe in Santa because they want to believe in Santa.
Armed with that bit of insight I don’t worry too much if my outfit is less than perfect. The mind’s eye of kids will fill in the blanks quite nicely. They won’t notice if your beard is slightly askew or your stomach looks a little square like a pillow or you laugh like Mr. Franklin down the street. They are ready to jump on your lap and recite their Christmas list like a rapid fire machine gun.
Playing Santa is a big responsibility. There’s no Santa Oath to swear to or license to obtain but there are definitely obligations with the role. First and foremost, you better take it seriously because the kids do. Have your answers ready for the prosecutorial cross examination. “Where’s your sleigh?” (Up on the roof.) “How do you get down the chimney?” (I use magic and inhale.) “What if I don’t have a chimney?” gets asked a lot from worried kids. (Don’t worry, I’ll get to your Christmas tree.) As Santa you have to be somewhat non-committal after hearing the list and say, “I’ll see what I can do.”
I attended an event where a group of employees at Little Company of Mary Hospital adopted a homeless mom and her six-year-old boy. They bought him presents and my wife asked if I could go as Santa to give the boy the presents. It was a happy gathering and I burst through the doors of the meeting room yelling over my shoulder to “Rudolph” to keep those reindeer up on the roof. I gave my hearty laugh and bellowed, “Now where is this special boy I’ve heard about?!” The smile that greeted me would melt your heart. He was so excited. After some conversation and singing and dancing I sat down and started giving him some of his presents. There were too many for my Santa sack so most were placed under a Christmas tree nearby. After giving him just two presents, he seemed overwhelmed looking over the pile of gifts and paused. He picked up a present from the pile and said, “Santa, can you give this to another kid who might need a present?”
Santa had to look away for a moment, speechless as his eyes misted. “Of course, of course.”