My Christmas season covers most of the year. There are more intense periods of activity to be sure, but there’s always a suit prepared, and boots/belt shined up and ready, should the call come to visit a dying child in the hospital, or move in front of the cameras for advertising. Part of that means having my beard bleached white beginning in July, or August.
This past year, with the exception of advertising work, my season started with Hope Kids in November at Cookies With Santa. This event is my biggest one, and one of my favorites. Hundreds of family members show up for a morning of pictures, cookie decorating, ornament making, and games. The good people of Game Works turn the joint over to us for the morning, and I am honored to work with some of the greatest children around. It’s the opener to my season each year, usually the first time I’m there for photos with the children. I take great pride in being a special needs Santa, and the thank you cards I get from the event are better than any paycheck you can imagine.
Over the course of the next six weeks, I meet the greatest cross-section of the Twin Cities that you can imagine. I do small events – some unintentionally – where it’s a more intimate group. I get to sit and chat with the hosts (Hi, April) and take a few pictures. Other times it’s mass-production, with people climbing up to take a knee as fast as possible. Lines that don’t let up for 3 or 4 hours, and a slight hint of madness creeping into the festivities.
But the people are all the same: individuals. I think that’s what makes you a great Santa: the ability to recognize that each person is important. I must confess, I don’t always remember names when people come to see me. Some folks have been coming for over a decade, and I have a hard time putting a name to the face. But I remember the little things about them. I remember the year the twins were worried that they wouldn’t see Santa because the influenza outbreak was really bad, so they showed up a week earlier than normal at a different venue. Or the year that Grandfather passed away, and there was a quiet reverence about the occasion that hadn’t been there before, or since.
Some of the season is behind the scenes. This past year we worked on Saints Scarves, and my wife, Kip, not only knit about 80 of the 160 scarves, but her knitting group marshaled the supplies for our wrapping party – a party that ran until 11 at night. We had a great time, ate pizza, and wrapped gifts for the people who needed them most.
The “day job” also has a place, and I show up there most days in December. This year, after years of sloth and forgetfulness, I broke out my Haitian Nativity set and displayed it at my desk.
There’s even a place for the biker character at Christmas. The good folks of Eagle Brook Church invited me to be a part of their message (click the link to watch)– it’s the first minute of the message portion – and I was a festive biker with a problem: Ugly Christmas Sweaters (UCS). I was reunited for the occasion with Susan, a great actress who had been my Mrs. Claus last year for the Sleep Number commercial we shot. It’s a small world.
Sometimes, it’s not the children that need Santa the most. If you are worth your title, you will pray for people. Sometimes quite a bit. This photo was taken at an event where a woman about my age very sincerely asked Santa for her father to love her once again, and for him to find Christ before he died. She was caring for an elderly parent who had been ravaged by dementia, and had grown to hate her for the imaginary crimes she had committed against him. Why would an adult ask Santa? Because, deep inside, each of us secretly hopes that Santa is real. And while I’m sure she would pass it off as a joke if confronted by someone, I took it very seriously. I stopped my whirl of smiles and photos, counseled her a bit about God’s love, and prayed with her. I am honored to be entrusted with people’s greatest fears, and to be able to offer them a word of encouragement.
But Christmas is mainly for children in the United States. I make sure that I visit Children’s Hospital each season with the fine folks from Toys For Tots. We go room-to-room with the staff from the Child Life program (all of them a blessing) and hand out gifts – and I pray. At each room. Sometimes my prayers are answered by the Bishop. (He’s the Great Dane.)
How do I keep it going? Well, with 26 events this year (a record low this past decade – I purposely dialed it back a bit this year) I have some hidden reserves. For one thing, I wear my Dan Crenshaw shirt under the suit the last days of the season. If Crenshaw power won’t do it for you, nothing will.
And then, just as quickly as it began, the season ends with a final round of visits. I took Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off this year, so it all came to a conclusion last night. Much like the beginning of the season, the last event was non-paid. As it should be, in my opinion.
My final appearance of the season was shooting a selfie-video with the clerk at a gas station for her son Noah. That was after I hung out with two guys who were off-duty cops at the same station. It was truly magical, in that we all had mutual friends, and I’d attended church with a couple of them that morning. Mind you, this was 30 miles from my home, on the far side of the metro area. It’s a small world. Those last smiles of the season were among the best.
2018 is now in the books for Santa. My heart is full, I had a great run with lots of good people, and tonight I can settle in with my wife for the first time in 18 years. I cannot wait to usher in Christmas Day with Kip and Stormy by my side, instead of darting around the Twin Cities.
To all of you: be blessed, and have a Merry Christmas.
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