Sunday last it was close to 90 degrees when we held the funeral for Santa at the Jewish Temple.
If that sentence doesn’t cause some cognitive dissonance, you are probably as warped as I am. I revel in strange things, even sad things, that have some poetic beauty if you look long and hard. There was plenty about this event to bring beauty.
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As recently noted on this blog, one of my fellow Santa members died of a massive stroke. Dale Tetzlaff was one of those guys who chose to be Santa every day of the year. To some extent all men who are Santa live the life throughout the year, but each of us takes it to a different level. In my case, I have the beard all year, and when I get “that look” from a child who is clearly wondering if I am Santa, I smile, give a finger waggle, and often will hand a “You’ve met Santa and this proves it” card to the parent. But for the most part, I’m mistaken for a biker thug or a homeless guy. My wardrobe needs improvement. When I occasionally dress in a black suit, I am mistaken for an Orthodox Rabbi. But most of the time I’m just Joe with the blue eyes and the shaved head.
Dale, like many of my friends in the business, kept his personality geared to being Santa. Creepy, right? Not at all. It meant that like Nicholas of Myra he maintained a love of mankind that was sometimes bordering on the naive, but never short on faith in his God. He brought a little bit of Christmas to his every interaction with the public. Outside of work hours (*he was working in a job that required a uniform*) he was to be found in a red outfit. Even in the summer, it was a red shirt at
a minimum. Nobody that met Dale ever wondered if he was Santa. Not even the adults. All things considered, there are far worse ways to go through your life than being “out” as Santa 365.
A professor (who’s also a Santa, and a preacher) led the funeral service. He started out the service by pulling out a model of the human brain and showing us where Dale’s stroke took place. He told us that when that let loose, you were effectively dead and that was that. Dale managed to make it for a long time, and he was conscious when he was brought into the emergency room. His sense of humor hadn’t left him, and he told the doctors and nurses that he’d “wrecked the sleigh.” Not bad words to number among your last.
Why a Jewish temple? Darned if I know, but it is hard to find a big space to hold a memorial service, and we’d outgrown the park pavilion where it was originally scheduled. It is a beautiful building, and the stained glass is breathtaking. I’ve never seen a window that was so large and thin and colored so beautifully. Along the wall we had an American and an Israeli flag. Not at all conventional for a memorial service for a non-Jew, but I liked it.
Gary Mumaugh, our professor/pastor/Santa, did an excellent job delivering a eulogy. He also was gracious in his inclusion of the family in the service. Nicely done, Good Sir.There were moments, however, when I found myself looking around for Rod Serling. The entrance processional (as such) was a Christmas Hymn, Silent Night. The audience was a mix of garb ranging from suits to shorts (it was very hot outside this weekend) but the predominant color was red. Lots of red, for his fellow Santas showed up in large numbers to remember one of their own. Not the full suit you see in the movies, but an assortment of garb that we wear as “casual wear” to some Santa visits. I sported more formal attire, and a red beret with a candy cane pin.
Things got a little strange when the “recessional” turned out to be Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. A great song, and since we were in the community room of the temple and not the sanctuary, strangely appropriate to recognize the fact that Dale had left this Earth and was already arrived in Heaven. The problem is, even with the words in the program we struggled with the song. Not that we can’t sing, but none of us has ever done two verses of that song that I know about. In my case, it’s used as the “cue” music that I am to emerge from wherever they’ve hidden me away at an event. I don’t pay attention to the words because I’m greeting people, hoisting children up for a hug, or waving to the cameras. This year I will be paying closer attention to the lyrics. But we struggled through two runs of the song and were told not to give up our day jobs. Feh – Santa works at night!
At this point Mr. Serling hopped out of the closet and moved directly into our midst. There is a salute in the fraternity of Santa Claus that we use sparingly. It goes like this:
“Give me a Ho!” which is responded to by the crowd with a resounding shout of “Ho!”
“Give me a Ho, Ho.”
“Give me a Ho, Ho, Ho.”
“Ho, Ho, Ho!”
“What’s that spell?”
It’s not quite a secret handshake, but it’s close enough. In the community room of a Jewish temple. On a Sunday. In the 90s. To memorialize Santa Dale.
Yep. That’s strange. And yet beautiful. For we sent our friend off with the Santa equivalent of a 21 gun salute. And we will keep his memory alive as long as we’re around in those red suits.
Footnote: Dale and I are the same age. I’m actually slightly older. And it struck me that I am ready to meet my maker at this point on a spiritual level, but is my family ready to deal with the exit? Yes. I verified that my wife can access all my scheduled visits for the Christmas season on the computer and get word to the people that Santa will not be coming that year when my time comes. Also, I’d like to suggest that they not play Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – instead, The Star Spangled Banner as performed by Marvin Gaye.
I don’t know if Dale’s wife is going to be able to find all of his dates, as she’s not sure how his computer notes and dates are set up. I am relieved that I will not be leaving that burden in my wake. But once we crack that computer for her, we’ll make sure every child has a visit from one of us. It’s the right thing to do.
Dale is gone, but Santa lives on.
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