I havent been this nervous since the first time I met my future
In twenty minutes, I step into the assembly hall. Ive already
been in the hall tonight and the hundred and fifty kids present could have
cared less, but this next time Ill be dressed as Santa.
A quick disclaimer to the true believers out there. Im of the
school of men that helps Santa out on occasion, and this is my first time.
Theres a lot of pressure on Santa to make personal appearances right
now, just when he feels the real production crunch up at the North Pole.
So Im doing him a favor as well as one for my friend Patt who works for
a foster care program and needed someone to play Santa at their holiday
Nervous. When I said yes to this gig, I immediately started thinking
about all the problems I could encounter, like wondering what I would say
to a child who pulled off my fake beard and exposed me as a charlatan.
Those were simple problems. During dinner I met some of the foster
children, and my heart broke. I saw my own son Skylar reflected in
each one of them, and I could hardly contain myself that all of these
children and so many others were separated from their families. My
fears as Santa magnified. What do you say to a little girl who asks
you to get her daddy out of jail?
Sweat is an essential element of being a Santa. Felt no one can
afford satin these days does not breathe. I hesitate to don the
entire outfit on any sooner than I have to. Theres also a process
to getting dressed as Santa. This is the very same jacket my father wore
when I was little. It weighs heavily with the tradition of
generations before mine. This is not a burden, as I first thought,
for it does not demand perfection in the actor. Rather, I feel the
power of what has come before me. In a strange way, I notice the odd
sensation of being possessed by a spirit not wholly unknown to me.
Rebecca adjusts my hat and then leaves to check on how the program is
progressing. I am alone holding a pair of spectacles, the last part
of my outfit. Who is Santa Claus? I ask myself. Im about to
become him, and I realize that I have never met Santa as an adult when I
could actually study him for details on how to act. Im too
self-conscious to even practice the Ho! Ho! Ho!
I want my mommy and daddy. The question haunts me again.
What would Santa say? This time, the spirit within me smiles.
Well see what we can do. Have hope.
What kind of an answer is that? I demand.
There is no time for the spirit to answer. My cue has been given, I
put on the glasses, and Im rushed into the room with a red toy bag
filled with yoyos and chocolate candy. I was told to sweep the room
and give out gifts, but the kids swarm me. I cant see anything
but open hands. The weight of the bag dwindles as the elves and I
dole out candy as fast as we can, and then its off to Santas Chair to
listen to requests.
One by one the kids sit on my lap. Let me rephrase that: they sit on
Santas lap. The possession is complete. There is no chance
of messing up. Ive got the Ho! Ho! Ho! down and that
special sparkle in my eye. Even the bigger kids sense that something
magical is in place, and they respectfully call me by the name Ive held
for ages as they ask if I have any candy left. I can see the bright
eyes and shy smiles as the younger ones each step up for their turn.
And the amazing part is that none of the requests are hard. This one
asks for a bike, this one a pokemon. Kids are kids.
Its the fastest hour of my life. Suddenly I find myself back
behind the kitchen again, taking off the glasses. Its like the
last thing I remember was putting them on. As I remove the wig and
beard, I feel the spirit within me pull away; its time to move on to
the next Santa. With the last boot off, I hear the spirit echo in my
head, Have hope, and then it is gone.
I begin to understand. Santa Claus has never worried about saving
the world. He isnt about that at all. Rather, he focuses on
a single moment, and that moment is now. His goal, his solitary goal, is
to win a smile on every face. Somehow lifes problems seem to
disappear or seem more possible to overcome when youre smiling.
I step into the bathroom and splash cool water on my face to recover, then
look at myself in the mirror. Theres something different.
And then I see it. The spirit didnt leave me completely.
I still have Santas sparkle in my eye.