Living, loving and leaving the magic of St. NickWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
I take on varying degrees of responsibility in my roles as a husband, father, friend, employee and above-average smartass, but I recently took on a job that required great dedication and focus: I was Santa Claus.
Not, for those of you who believe in St. Nick, the real Santa, of course, but a substitute helper at a friend’s party. There were more than a dozen children under age 5 there, and they were more buzzed about Santa’s arrival than Miss USA on a 3 a.m. bender with Miss Teen USA.
The parents at the party had filled two sacks with presents, pre-labeled for their children. Our hosts assembled a magnificent Christmas tree, 10 feet of pine topped by a gold star that offered all the promise of peace and joy the season can muster in these challenging times. There is war, there is poverty, there is pain, but not in that house, not on that night, not for those excited children.
After an hour or so of grazing and meeting new friends, I eased up a back staircase to a closed room filled with unwrapped presents, wrapping paper and bows, and a box with a Santa Claus costume.
The pants, belt and boot covers slipped on with ease. I have never worn bright red faux-velvet with white faux-fur trim; it’s not a look I would present on Monroe Street. As I zipped and buckled and tied, I felt with great clarity the gravity of wearing the suit. Yes, a troop of 3-to-5 year olds should be easy to persuade, but I know how powerful the Santa Claus mythos is, and I wanted to be as Clausy as I could be. I quickly ran through the names of the reindeer, a few easy-for-kids-to-sing carols (“Jingle Bells,” yes; “Good King Wenceslas,” no) and quietly practiced a deep, “ho, ho, ho,” which looks great on a Christmas card but is a forced and false-sounding laugh unless it is issued from the depths of the belly.
I put on the wig of white curls, fastened the Father Christmas beard and mustache over my face, inhaling a mouthful of synthetic white fibers that would haunt me during my performance, and reached for the jacket.
Now, I’m not as big around as I used to be, but I’m nothing resembling svelte, either, so I expected the big red jacket with its white trim to be loose, or maybe even require a pillow to take me from pleasingly plump to heart attack fat.
The jacket was tight across my shoulders, and as I pulled the front forward, I realized with dawning dread the jacket was going be a very tight fit. I checked the box, which said “medium,” and thought, “who makes a Santa Claus outfit in medium? Santa Claus suits should start at “hefty” and range to “Pavarotti.”
Our host popped her head in the door to see how it was going. I expressed concern about the jacket, and she told me if I left it open, it would be fine; the kids would not care about the details. As I learned later, she was as wrong as she could be.
Not wanting to look like Santa Claus via Billy Bob Thornton, I pulled the zipper together. The saving grace of the suit was a large flap that covered the zipper and buttoned up, giving me room to breathe through the mesh of white beard. I put on the red hat, nodded I was ready, and our host scurried downstairs to gather the kids and ring jingle bells heralding Santa’s arrival.
I bounded into the room with my two sacks of toys and saw a dozen faces light up as bright as the lights on the tree.
There really is magic to playing Santa, a feeling that miracles can be delivered on time if only you’d believe in them.
For the next 30 minutes, I had the kids name reindeer, sing songs and take their toys. Not one of them cried or was afraid. Although the beard kept getting in my mouth and making it hard to speak, rendering my voice an underwater mush like the tentacle-bearded Davy Jones in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the kids responded well and every one of them said thank you. Eventually. With some parental prodding.
The kids brought me a plate of cookies for my journey, and I bellowed a “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!” and slipped back up the stairs, out of sight.
At the top of the stairs, I noticed about six feet of open railing through which the kids could see me if I crossed the hall. So, in the spirit of keeping the illusion, I dropped onto my belly and scooted across the floor so I would not be seen. I’m not a natural scooter, so I placed the plate of cookies on a lamp table before I performed what must have been a comic-grotesque crawl across the floor.
I emerged a safe time later and was feeling good about my performance, until one child came running downstairs yelling that Santa had left his plate of cookies in the hall.
Paul Revere would have beamed at how fast he spread the news, which dismayed the sweet kids, who worried about the ramifications of Santa snubbing snacks. The parents reassured them Santa was saving the treats for his return visit, and the kids went back to their toys. A few of them looked at me suspiciously as I pulled a few stray white fibers from around my mouth.
It should not take a department store Santa suit to illustrate how difficult it can be to resurrect the magic, or a plate of neglected cookies to show how fragile the magic is.
I learned kids are much smarter than I thought, and while they’ll believe in the magic, they’ll also look for the hidden wires and clues that will put Santa behind them until they have their own kids.
I wish I could tell them to not be in a hurry to leave Santa behind.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. He may be contacted at (419) 241-1700 or by e-mail at email@example.com.