Nineteen Seventy-Six was a long time ago. There were no such things as micro aggressions, helicopter parents and not everyone carried or even had a cell phone. By the end of the year gas was a whopping 59 cents a gallon, the Dow Jones Industrial average ended the year at a paltry 1004. Back then Jimmy Carter was elected as the President and Sylvester Stallone needed a lot less make up for the very first Rocky movie. People were playing records (yep I said records) with the Bay City Rollers, Barry Manilow, Queen and Abba. It was a very different time.
Nineteen Seventy-six was also the very first time I ever wore the Santa Suit. My sister was working in a nursing home and felt that a visit from Santa was just what the residents needed to help brighten their spirits and get them into a festive holiday mood. Despite my reluctance, my sister was relentless, so I finally agreed. Not knowing what I was doing, off to the store I went. My suit that year was red corduroy with a beard made of cotton and crummy plastic boot tops that looked great with my white Converse All Stars and a pillow stuffed into my midsection to give me a rounder belly. Despite my less than stellar appearance, I was a huge hit. When I walked into the room with my stiff Ho Ho Ho, the absolute joy on the faces of the residence is still something I will never forget. Hugs and exclamations of “oh it’s Santa” filled each room I went into. That was it, I was hooked. For the next few years I repeated the performance, and I began to enjoy it even more than the residents did.
Since then, I’ve donned the suit countless times and although I still really enjoy the older crowd, the kids really touch my heart. There is no substitute for the look of pure wonder and amazement on the face of a young child who still believes in Santa and is convinced that you are the real Santa. Seeing out of the corner of your eye a child that can’t stand still waiting in line for the chance to sit on your lap and tell you all the things they want for Christmas makes the Holiday a truly special time of year for me. For some it may be annoying when a newborn manages to completely intertwine their fingers into your beard, but for some reason I love it. Parents, especially first time parents, get this look on their faces that are indescribable and the babies look like little angels all snuggled up in my lap. A lot of things have changed in 40 years, but what I hope never changes are the kids.
Equally as moving, but in a different way, are the requests that you can’t fulfill. How do you explain to a child whose parents are in the midst of a divorce that Mommy and Daddy still love them but that you don’t have any power to bring them back together? It is heartbreaking to see the anguish in the face of someone so young that is dealing with the death of a friend, family member or a pet at this most joyous time of the year. Promising a truck, doll, coloring books or even a video game is hardly enough to make up for their loss. Santa can fill a lot of requests and make this time special but there are some requests he can’t fill. Those are the times when the suit and the beard make you feel almost naked as you struggle just to keep your composure. Times like these you wish Santa was truly magical and could fix whatever the problem is.
In forty years, I have seen a lot and done a lot. I have entered parties on a Fire truck, a mechanical Reindeer, a scooter and even a helicopter. I have read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas countless times. I have been the big guy for celebrities and homeless families alike. Regardless of how I arrive or who the audience is, the experience has varied little. Forty years in the chair has taught me quite a bit. It has reinforced the true meaning of that old saying of “it is better to give than receive”. I have gotten so much out of this experience. I have met so many wonderful people and heard some incredible stories; I hope I can do it for at least a few more years. Despite the fact it is considered politically incorrect, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas. Love, Santa