What do you call it when virtually every face you see in a day turns to you with joy and an expectation of an increase in their personal happiness just by virtue of your presence? Being Santa.
And what does that bring to Santa? An increased level of happiness and a deep sense of personal responsibility. It is very humbling to be the focus of attention by hundreds of people in a short period of time.
Saturday was the annual “Cookies with Santa” event for Hope Kids. The day started, like most as Santa, with a very early wake-up at 0500. After the normal morning fang-renewal ritual I let the reindeer out to do their business. (They sometimes morph into Shetland Sheepdogs, but I digress.) While Donner and Blitzen were out stumbling around the back yard Santa had some whole wheat toast and buckwheat honey for breakfast. The delightful treat was washed down with a concoction we call “LemonTea” around the North Pole. In reality it’s sliced lemons crushed up in a beer-stein and filled with Splenda and boiling water.
A quick check of the emails for updates on other Santa visits and then it was time to run the electric razor over my fat head. Once that’s smooth, shower up and blow-dry the beard. Some quick beard make-up and Santa’s ready to don the suit.
Saturday was a “casual” Santa day, it was going to be warm in the venue but by keeping the red coat in my Santa bag and wearing one of my handmade Christmas shirts you still get “the look” without the dehydration. Simply wearing the hat and the pants gives the look. Even with lightweight clothes on, it’s warm when you have 3 or 4 children climbing on you like a fixture at the local park. Those munchkins generate a lot of heat.
I got to the Mall of America in plenty of time to set up the photo backdrop and make sure the venue was ready. My beloved camera man Dick Sonnen was there and that meant we were off to a great start.
At precisely 8 am we looked up to find the line had already formed. Not good, we weren’t ready to shoot pictures until that pesky backdrop and bench covering had been applied. By ten after the hour it was obvious that the natives were growing restless. On with the show and the line was now open.
For the next four hours we took thousands (that is correct, thousands) of photos of beautiful people. Two photographers did the hard work of capturing that image. I am remiss in not knowing the name of the very nice lady who stepped in when Dick wasn’t feeling well, but she did a great job. They cajoled, posed and composed individuals and families for hours until we’d run through the line. And then they dribbled in for the next half hour until at five minutes after noon Dick and I agreed that we’d better tear things down so that the Sky Deck Sports Grille & Lanes could open for business.
I pray a lot when I’m in that Santa chair. I’ve made it my mission since I was born again to pray over each and every person who sits with me for a picture. Most of the time it’s quietly done in my head, just a chat between Jesus and Joe. But on Saturday when I asked what people wanted for Christmas and they didn’t know I’d say, “How about if I pray for you this year?” I did that more than once Saturday and it felt good. It felt blessed. And the people I prayed for seemed to feel the same way.
It’s very difficult to explain the feeling you get when you are the subject of such unwarranted adoration. It is beyond humbling. And I try to repay that debt to God by praying very hard for those children. Hope Kids are great kids. But each of them has a major health issue. And it is so excellent to see familiar faces each year. That means they made it one more year. One year closer to growing into adulthood and all of its challenges. It makes my creaky bones and other complaints so very minor by comparison. It makes me grateful that I’m as healthy as I am.
Those families warm my heart. Saturday I felt the presence of God with each snap of the shutter. I’ve heard people talk about being in the presence of God or The Holy Spirit many times. Saturday was one of those times. Four hours of being a servant of God and being blessed by the opportunity to simply smile and pray and make kids happy. Not much on my part required except a pure heart. That sounds pompous, but I really try to be a good representative of Nicholas of Myra when I’m in that chair.
After we got done I walked out to the ramp and greeted a few dozen people as I tried to slip off to my car. The mall has a valid policy of only one Santa at a time and I try not to abuse it. Stopped for a hamburger in the drive-through and headed home.
Quick scarf of burger, release the reindeer for one more break and then shower and bed. I use that time to process my day and it was a great one. As the makeup leaves the beard my fatigue grows every time. By the time my head hit the pillow the expenditure of energy had fully hit me. When you’re Santa you have to turn the dial to “11” for the people around you. And Saturday we cranked it up to 14.
Will I ever get tired of doing it? I really hope not. By the end of the season it can be a challenge to gather the energy but I always seem to make it in one piece. My goal is to be as good on the last visit as I was on the first. And kiss the heads of a few babies while dodging cows along the way.
Best job on Earth. But it’s all made possible by Heaven. Thank you, God, for this ministry and all it brings into my life.