posted on Dec, 25 2010 @ 10:35 AM
Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas to all.
The year was 1999. A few days after Thanksgiving, with the seasonal consumer frenzy in full swing, my nine year old started begging me to take him to
the mall for what turned out to be his last visit to Santa. He was on the cusp of understanding that Santa was not “real”, but he wanted to hedge
his bets on the off chance that there really was a jolly fat elf who delivered the presents. His perception of the Santa story was about to take an
The line to visit Santa was long, but we patiently waited for his turn while his mom and 14 year old brother roamed the mall looking for those special
gifts for various relatives. Santas' majordomo was a very large (and very jolly) African American lady who was doing her level best to keep the line
moving and the little ones entertained while we waited. When we finally got to the head of the line, she looks down at my son and says, “What's
your name, young man?”.
“Kevin” he replied shyly.
“And who is this big fellow?” she asked, looking at me.
“My dad.” says Kevin.
Now you need to know that, thanks to my very long white hair and full white beard (not to mention a well developed beer belly), I did closely resemble
the fellow in the red suit in front of us. The “head elf” looked at me and said something completely out of character it seemed.
“Well!” she says, “I think I'd better get your dads' phone number!”
I was stunned! I will confess that my first thought, as politically incorrect as it was, was “Is Aunt Jemima hitting on me???” I guess my face
revealed shock and surprise, because she laughed and explained to me that their “Santa” had to return to his home in New England (we were in
Colorado) on Dec. 21st because of family obligations, and asked if I would consider taking his place for the last 4 days of the contract. Since I
worked from home at the time, I immediately agreed. As luck would have it, “Santa” became ill two days later and I got the call to take the
stage for 3 weeks rather than 4 days.
It turned out to be the most fun I had ever had at a “job”. The schedule was horrific - 9:00AM till 9:00PM, seven days a week. The pay was just
above minimum wage but frankly I would have done it for no pay at all. I loved every minute of it especially when the older kids would yank on my
beard in an attempt to prove me false. More than one jaw dropped in amazement.
I had great fun talking with the kids, seeing their reactions to me and it was obvious after a couple of days which toys were the hottest items that
year. It was also an opportunity to inspire kids and their parents to give some thought to the ways in which myths interact with the “real”
Everyone knows that Santa arrives by way of the family chimney, so I began asking the children if they had a fireplace. Many did not. To these I
gave assurance that even without a traditional chimney I would arrive via a conventional door – and I would ask the parents to make sure that a door
would be left unlocked for my arrival.
For those children who assured me that there was a fireplace in their homes, I asked them to do me a really big favor. Many seemed surprised that
Santa would ask them to do HIM a favor, but all agreed and then asked what that favor might be. I asked them to make sure that their parents put out
the fire in the fireplace before going to bed. Most laughingly agreed and the photographer got some great smiling pictures. A few stopped cold lost
in thought and you could see in their eyes that it had never occurred to them that sliding down a chimney while a fire blazed on the hearth might be a
a painful experience even for Santa! They suddenly saw through the illogic of advertising posters showing Santa standing in a living room before a
roaring fire while munching cookies. It is wondrous to see a young mind wrap itself around an idea never before considered.
At the end of each visit, I would ask the current occupant of my lap if he or she had any questions they would like to ask me. Again, many were
surprised that Santa could do something besides patiently listen to their list of wishes. Most of the questions were pretty mundane; “Where are
your reindeer?”, “How do you know where I live?” and “What's Mrs. Clause like?” were some of the more common questions asked, but I shall
remember this one young fellow and his mom till the end of my days.
He was about six or seven I would guess. You could tell by just looking at his demeanor that he was bright and inquisitive. He examined the props on
the set with a piercing curiosity that was the very definition of what we call a “thirst for knowledge”. I noticed that both he and his mom were
decked out in full blown 1960's Hippy attire, even though it was obvious that mom was about 25 and thus much too young to have any direct knowledge
if the era. But nonetheless, she was fitted out in a floor length tie-dyed granny dress and sandals while the young man was wearing platform shoes,
bell bottom pants a long sleeved tie-dyed shirt and leather headband. Both had long 60's era hair and I knew at a glance that this interview was
going to be memorable.
Everything went along smoothly through the visit until we got to the “Do you have any questions for me?” part. The young fellow soberly
considered the question for a few seconds and then floored me with his perceptive question:
“What do you do the rest of the year?” he asked seriously.
Well, that stopped me in my tracks. While casting about for a reasonable answer, my eyes were once again drawn to their attire. Then it hit me!
Keeping my voice steady and a little wistful I replied,
“Well, for a long time I had a really good gig with a band called the 'Grateful Dead'!”
That brought the house down! Everyone within earshot roared with laughter. Mom was holding her sides and gasping for breath between gales of laughter
and spontaneous applause broke out from the onlookers.
It was truly wonderful to have had the opportunity to “sit in” for the jolly old elf. In fact, I'd have to call it a truly spiritual experience
to have been a small part in conveying the magic of Christmas to a few children in Colorado.
Of course my youngest was devastated to learn Santas' real name: Dad.