Issue 27

Santaic Possession


                I haven’t been this nervous since the first time I met my future mother-in-law.

                In twenty minutes, I step into the assembly hall.  I’ve already been in the hall tonight and the hundred and fifty kids present could have cared less, but this next time I’ll be dressed as Santa.

                A quick disclaimer to the true believers out there.  I’m of the school of men that helps Santa out on occasion, and this is my first time.  There’s 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 I’m 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 celebration.

                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.  There’s 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.  I’m 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.  I’m 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.

                “We’ll 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 I’m 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 can’t 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 Santa’s Chair to listen to requests.

                One by one the kids sit on my lap.  Let me rephrase that: they sit on Santa’s lap.  The possession is complete.  There is no chance of messing up.  I’ve 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 I’ve 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.

                It’s the fastest hour of my life.  Suddenly I find myself back behind the kitchen again, taking off the glasses.  It’s 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; it’s 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 isn’t 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 life’s problems seem to disappear or seem more possible to overcome when you’re smiling.

                I step into the bathroom and splash cool water on my face to recover, then look at myself in the mirror.  There’s something different.  And then I see it.  The spirit didn’t leave me completely.

                I still have Santa’s sparkle in my eye.


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