Being Santa Claus, The 1st Time!
The Very First Time - How It All Began
25 years ago, in early December, a close friend of mine had shared with me that he was a volunteer Santa. He made appearances at various holiday parties for charities and organizations that did not have funds to hire a Santa. He had suggested for some time that I should dress up as an elf and join him. I finally stopped making excuses and agreed to join in. The night before my first elf adventure at a major Boys & Girls Club children’s party, he came down with a bad virus. He suggested that I go in his place as Santa Claus. Very skeptical at first, as you can imagine, I had a hundred questions. But finally, I agreed, took his Santa duffle bag and off I went. He offered a backup suit, but I declined, what on earth could happen, right?
About one hundred children, ages 4 to 8, were waiting at the center draped with festive holiday décor. A dozen staff volunteers, and several dozen parents were present as well. There were refreshments and small gifts for all the kids. I had stopped on the way and bought several hundred large candy canes to make sure every child received something. The children all had a meal prior to my arrival.
Santa had a head elf and two Santa’s helpers. Sitting on a large stuffed chair with a Christmas tree on one side and wrapped gifts on the other, Santa looked on as the children all sang holiday songs for about 15 minutes. Then each of the various age groups performed a skit they had written with their staff members. It was really precious. Santa jumped in a few times to sing and dance along with the children. It was totally impromptu, and the kids loved it. Wow, this is really fun, I thought to myself. Then the announcement was made for the children to line up single-file and approach Santa. The head elf introduced each child to Santa by their first name. I then asked each child their age and had them hold up their fingers to show their age, something I still do to this day. Santa matched each finger with theirs which created a special type of high five.
Santa then asked each child what their wishes were for Christmas, followed by a photo and giving the kids a large candy cane. Each child also received a small gift. So far, so good. I remember thinking that this really is not that hard.
The next child came up, a 6-year-old boy, who replied when I asked what his wishes were, “Well, I wrote you a letter, don’t you remember?” Thinking fast, I told him that Mrs. Claus took care of all the letters. OK, that worked. A little boy marched proudly up to Santa when it was his turn and asked, "Mommy says I's impossible, whats that get me?"
A dozen kids later and I had my first “accident” when a very excited little boy “urped” on Santa’s leg. That was when I recalled my friend offering me that second suit. Santa needs a backup suit at all appearances for sure! The best I could do in this case was take a short break, clean up the best I could, and go back at it. A tiny bit of panic was starting to creep in.
A few kids later, a little girl came up, stared at Santa, and blurted out, “You better drink skim milk or 2% milk cause you look really fat!” Her mother was horrified but I told her that Mrs. Claus had me on a new diet. She seemed satisfied with that. A boy, 7 years old, came up, folded his arms in front of his chest and declared, “I hope you do better than last year!” Next up was a girl who announced that she was “Going to gets married in couple weeks and has twins.” Her dad looked on with amazement since she was just 6. Another little boy was really amusing himself by trying to tell me his favorite joke until he totally forgot the punchline. Another little guy blurted out, "My grandpa says I's a work in process 'n go easy on me." Being puked on aside, this was becoming heartwarmingly fun.
Donning the Santa suit taught me several things, but mainly that you need to be quick on your feet and ready for just about anything. You need to listen carefully and not promise the world. I was also in total wonder at these amazing little characters, how their minds worked and what they had to say. I also learned that what a child hears, they do repeat. That was borne out by a little boy starting to tell Santa what his daddy said in the car on the way to the party about the other drivers. His dad stopped him just in the nick of time!
On went the night, about three hours in all. As I walked through the center to the office to change, about a dozen kids waited at the front door entrance. I wondered what that was all about. Turns out they wanted to see Santa make his exit, plus see the sleigh and all the reindeer. That explained why my Santa friend told me to carefully disappear from the party when all the children had been seen and get changed into your “civies.” I left quietly and inconspicuously out to the car. Instead of just driving home, I sat back for a bit and collected myself. For some reason I will never know, I pulled out a pen and a notepad and wrote down about a dozen notes of what the kids had said. On the drive home, I realized that this was one of the most meaningful days of my life. The next day, I returned the Santa suit to my friend, (washed), and told him about my experience. He was most happy that his prediction that I would be a good Santa was correct. And, as they say, the rest is history!