11 Hours Until Flight Time.

It’s just about time for me to fire up the sled for the final visits of 2013. I’d like to share some of this year with you today. I’m leaving this post up until Thursday at least, maybe a little longer. I hope you take a few minutes to read today’s post and ponder the information and observations I’ve got on the spirit of Christmas.

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First, there is one reason for the season: The birth of Jesus Christ. All of the rest of it is selling. Including Santa. I am proud of what I do, but I do try and make it clear that Christ is the impetus behind my visits and appearances. I proclaim that word on each visit. Sometimes softly, sometimes just a little louder, sometimes at full throat. But it is always there.

Families do not take enough photos together. While I am overjoyed to take pictures with “just the kids,” I am very persistent about parents being in the frame. Grama & Grampa as well. And anyone else in the group. I also delight in taking photos of the groups who have invited me to visit their party. It doesn’t always work out, but I try to offer it whenever possible. The reason is simple: that family might be torn asunder the minute they leave my presence by illness or injury. It has been my observation that those families that make a habit of taking that picture are happier. It’s an indicator of their closeness when they all pose with Santa. The most reluctant to get involved are dads between 30 and 45. For some reason they don’t want to be bothered.

We travel this road toward our destiny alone in the end. It all comes down to one moment of birth, one moment of death. In the interim we are grouped as families, coworkers, shipmates, and lovers. I regret not having photographs of my shipmates during the 1984-1989 period. We just didn’t do it. Partly for security reasons, partly because we were unaware of what it would mean later, and partly because of the cost of film. Dads, you have no excuse. No film cost, you’re there while the rest take the picture, and it ain’t gonna kill you. Be in that photo.

I want to hit that point again: Be in the photo. It shows your ultimate participation with your family. Sit on Santa’s knee with your wife. Sit with your daughter. Be a man who shows his love and concern for their smiles. End of lecture.

Each person who sat on my knee, stood next to me, occupied the bench to my right or left, or simply stood in the background, was special to me. I truly appreciate all of you who have spent your moments with me in 2013. I will miss my friend Jim who is moving to Atlanta. I will pray for all of you travelling this week. I will be aware, as I always am, when one of “my kids” doesn’t show up to the party – they’re gone. I’ve lost a lot of little friends over the past 12 years. Lots of small ones, and older ones, who have lost their battles with illness or injury. Some through accidents, some through suicide, some though loss of will. I am so honored to have had them for whatever time they’ve given me in my life. I am richer for their smiles. I hope I have given a few in return.

Two days ago I perfected my beard. It was the best it ever looked. A combination of great hair dressing by my friend Dennis, age and added gray, and technique with the makeup. I was tickled senseless. (Not that long a trip for me this time of year.) It made me realize that my beard wasn’t always all that great. I look back at some of the early pictures and shudder. Who was I fooling?

Nobody. I never set out to fool anyone. And perhaps that’s the key to my success. I’ve always striven to be the best Santa anyone has ever met. I may have botched the look from time to time, I may have fumbled the words to a story or forgotten a name. I’ve even caused a child to cry due to my inept teasing (I still feel badly that I caused tears.) I have learned lessons with every step of the journey. While this has resulted in more visits, greater popularity, more financial rewards, and an easier time being myself in the red suit, it has one massive benefit that cannot be understated: I have return visits each year.

The people who have sat on my lap, or brought their children and grandchildren to see me every year is growing. I am so humbled and honored that they come to see me. They bring their pictures – years worth of shots with me at various locations. I am Santa to those children. I delight in seeing them grow. I delight in seeing the couples come back each year. Some of virtually every color, creed, sexual orientation, and political persuasion. What two things do all of them have in common? They are God’s children and my friends.

Nobody is your enemy based on their appearance or orientation if you represent Jesus. It doesn’t mean that it’s your lifestyle, that you would desire their problems and worries, or that you endorse their political platform. It means that you are kind to them, smile when you see them, love them for their friendship, and pray for them as brothers and sisters under the domain of Christ. I’ve had some of the most amazing conversations with people in that chair over the last dozen years. I’ve prayed for them, spoken to them in Russian, Arabic, Spanish, German, and English. I’ve inquired about their health and jobs. I’ve choked up over their losses and sorrows. And I will continue to do so as long as God allows me to wear that red suit. That’s what Santa does. He works for his boss, Jesus, spreading the Gospel of love and kindness.

There is no hate in that chair. (OK, maybe for Rudolph: he steals the show. I could drop dead and if Rudolph stepped in Santa would be forgotten in an instant.) But there is a blessing to me that I cannot even begin to convey. I often sit there in the quiet times and marvel at this gift from God. I sit and look out over the room and pray for the people around me. I feel the Holy Spirit with me while I ask for blessings on those who have come to visit and are not yet ready to have that photo snapped. I am brimming over with love and passion for bringing that message to the people. I’m often asked if I’d like to take a break or have something to eat. I suspect people think I’m bored when I sit there and just gaze about with a grin on my face. Truthfully, I’m as happy as any man can be when I’m there as Santa. I couldn’t ask for a better spot in this universe.

This year I shifted the focus of my prayers. I don’t know why it happened, but I was moved to pray protection over the women and children who came to see me. I was concerned for their safety from abuse, both sexual and physical. God moved me to spend time in reflection and prayer over that topic. I have seen so many hurt faces in this job. I see people who are so manifestly unhappy with their lives, their bodies, their relationships, and their hearts that I was moved to pray for their protection and well being. I am largely invisible to adults. They let down their guard for a moment while the children are talking to me. But I’m watching them. And praying.

We all have burdens. I let mine overwhelm me earlier this year. It hurt. It was physically uncomfortable. Once I realized what was happening I started to pray more and work less. I dialed it back to the point where I was getting better every hour. I was worried that the Santa season would blow my fuses from the demands of 15 hour days and hundreds of miles on the road each week (in addition to the “full-time” job.) Just the opposite happened. I was refreshed and strengthened emotionally. I am physically tired. I have lost weight doing it. But I’m buoyed by the waves of love and kindness people lavished on me in the last 7 weeks.

Tonight I will go out as Santa for the last time for a few months. I have a long drive ahead and I’m praying the snow is minimal. I am praying that all of the families I will visit will prosper and thrive this coming year. I pray that my time with them will bring them closer to the word of Jesus. I pray that some comfort and love results from my visits.

Tomorrow I’ll rest. I’ll trim my mustache for the first time in 8 weeks. I’ll have dinner with my wife and my dear friends. And, most importantly, I’ll ponder the birth of our Savior. Of all the things I’ve done this past year, my attempt to bring that message to the world via KTIS radio was the highlight. My books, my blog, my visits were all important to me, but this video has traveled the world. I hope you share it, and its message, with your friends and family today. I wish you a Merry Christmas. I pray for your well being and life this day. I thank God for the opportunity to serve him.

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