Santa Claus: More than a man in a suit

Daily Record photo by Denise Cathey

Editor’s note: This column has previously been published in the San Marcos Daily Record.

He came out of his workshop and plopped down on his office chair, his bulk hiding the chair from my sight. Without his familiar red coat, his suspenders and the tops of his longjohns were exposed, but he seemed not to mind as he glanced in my direction, took a deep breath and asked "What can I do for you, sir?"

The twinkle in his eye invited me to relax and feel right at home. "Well,” I said, "I would like to know more about you. I write a column for our local paper, featuring special people. Some are well known and others are not so well known, but they all have an interesting story to tell. I try to let our community know more about people who live in their midst."

Santa replied "Sir, I have always thought everyone is a special person, so I guess you don't have much trouble finding a subject for your column," as he arched his eyebrows, looked over the glasses perched on the end of his nose and turned a bit more serious.

"That's true," I responded, "but today, I would like to hear about you. Who you are, where you come from, how you got into doing what you do, and well, you know, a profile of Santa. That's what I'm looking for."

He pondered a moment, frowned just briefly, then responded, "Who am I? Now that's a strange question but I guess it is appropriate because maybe people have a different idea of who I am. It may be different from who I really am."

With a conspiratorial smile creeping across his lips, he said, "I guess you could say I am an idea. I am an idea born out of the notion that happiness should be an important part of our life. I like to think I provide a means for people to achieve happiness by giving. Over the years my name has become synonymous with giving. I am an alter ego for adults who want to be children for a short time. I allow parents and grandparents to reach back and grab a part of their childhood every year as they go out and find gifts and toys that, they could only imagine in their wildest fantasies. I am the mask behind which they can hide as they vicariously participate in the anticipation and thrill of the Christmas excitement. The shrills and shrieks of happy children with their uncontaminated belief in miracles take the adults back to days when it was easier to believe in the unbelievable."

With that explanation he seemed to grow more expansive and open. "I am the symbol of a generous heart. I have been used to represent everything from the very spiritual to the totally crass, commercial, and materialistic at this time of year, but my faith in humanity tells me people can separate the real me from the phony, plastic replica whose brainnumbing 'HO HO HO, Merry Christmas Boys and Girls' wafts, amplified, over public address systems and attacks our sensibilities to the point of producing schizophrenic delusions.

"I am alive and well in the Salvation Army Santa, collecting spare change and occasional folding money. I am present in the wellpadded, poorly-disguised, reluctant volunteer who flies in by helicopter and reinforces the myth among children that there is an angel of generosity and unconditional love who could go to every child in the world in one night. I am the mother who takes the extra job toward the end of the year so she can afford the expensive scooter her son has his heart set on. I am the anonymous donor who contributes his hard earned 10 bucks to the church Christmas Fund. I am the father who, after spending more than is practical, stays up all Christmas Eve putting together the bike, the doll house and the toy train."

At this point I was getting a little confused and I thought it was time to lighten up a bit, so I asked, "'What's the hardest part of your job, Santa?"

He threw his head back, thought a minute and with a chuckle, responded, "You mean besides convincing Mrs. Claus that I'm really going around the world in 24 hours on a vehicle powered by eight reindeer?

"I guess it would be convincing the elves of the fickle nature of children. Just when we had the assembly line pretty much automated to produce a million Cabbage Patch dolls a week we get the word, that they are as out of style as Lincoln Logs and Roy Rogers six-shooters. Suddenly, it's X-Box, Game Boy III, Grand Theft Auto and or some such new-fangled development. The elves, of course, don't fully understand the nature of product tie-ins with the entertainment industry. Even though we have the history of Shrek, Batman and The Little Mermaid, they have trouble understanding the speed with which children's loyalty changes. They get frustrated with all the retraining involved in staying current with demands." I was curious to know how he got his name. He told me the name came from Western Europe. His ancestors were German and Dutch, largely. He said  he was descended from a Saint Nicholas who was known for his good deeds, especially generosity to the poor. Over the last 500 years, he said, he had been known by many names and in Holland at one time, he was called Sinter Klaas, which, of course, we have Americanized to Santa Claus. He explained that he is still known by several different names. For instance, in France he is frequently referred to as Pere Noel. He is Kriss Kringle in Germany, and Father Christmas in England. Each country has its own Santa, he explained, they just spell it differently.

"What ever got you started on this near impossible task," I asked.

"I suppose it was a spark in the human soul. There seems to be a need in all of us to share ourselves with others. Unlike some deep thinkers of our time, I believe people are innately good. And being innately good, love is as necessary to us as breathing. Loving is giving. And what better time to express our love than at the Christmas season. I think it is absolutely wonderful that we have chosen to honor the most important event in the Christian world with this great expression of love. Tying together the birth of Christ with our great season of sharing seems as natural as my beard."

"What is the best part of your job," I asked. "Oh, that one is easy. It is when I see the expression on the face of children as they discard all suspicions, all trace of disbelief and doubt and accept the reality of a universal spirit that is all-loving all-giving, and aimed at eliminating hunger, want and sorrow from the world. When the innocence returns to the face of an adult and he/she can return to child-like bliss as they observe an act of kindness or generosity that wipes out a pain or a worry, I know I have served my purpose. I feel as if I could fly!"

"So, is this going to be a good Christmas, Santa," I queried with an optimistic lilt to the question.

"Well, of course it is, sir," he said. "We are barely embarked on a new century and a new millennium. It has been 2000 years since the occurrence of the event which we celebrate. When we look about us and recognize the multitude of blessings we have received because we honor the principles that were brought to earth with the birth of Christ, we must be optimistic. We can only expect our lives to get better when we work to make other lives better."

With that, he heaved a sigh and remarked "I hear the elves arguing about how many Playstations will be required this year, so I better go. Thanks for listening and Merry Christmas to you and yours.”

San Marcos Daily Record

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P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666