The Christmas Time Warp.

This past year, for the first time since 2019, I did a full schedule as Santa. Now, during the Covid follies I did virtual stuff for old clients and charities, but I couldn’t bring myself to wear a mask and sit behind plexiglass like the Karen’s were demanding. I decided to just not appear in public. (One exception, I did a television commercial, but only because I was all alone in the frame and didn’t have to wear a mask. Other than that, I wasn’t out in public in the red suit.)

At any rate, I’d forgotten just how fast the Christmas season roars by, and how much fun you don’t have when you are the source of fun for others. Don’t get me wrong, I love being Santa and brightening everyone’s day. But it is a long day, and with very few days off it’s hard to keep track of what day it is, much less make it to the Christmas party. I found myself divorced from the season, an unpleasant feeling I hadn’t had in three years. 

(Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

I realized this the other night when I finally got to watch a Christmas special on the internet. I had looked forward to seeing this months ago, but when the workload as Santa exponentially increased from what I’d anticipated it got lost. It’s hard to get that Christmas feeling in the middle of January.

Now, having set the stage, I want to share some other observations about Christmas, and how it differs dramatically between Minnesota and Florida.

First, I made it through the season with just one suit. My suits are washable, so I just remove the fur (velcro) and throw them in the wash every few days. In Minnesota I’d usually run through 2, if not 3 suits in the course of a season due to salt/grime/parkinglot muck ruining the suits and the fur. Florida? As long as I pay a little attention the fur comes through nicely, even after a 50 day season.

Same for boots. I have two pairs of very nice boots to wear. Why? Because road salt forces you to saddle soap and polish your boots every day or two. While one pair dried, I’d wear the other one. Not here. The polish holds up for a week, and all I have to do is buff them a bit to get rid of tiny footprints on the top. 

I don’t have to lug around spare clothes in the event that my car is stuck in a snow bank. Nope, I wear a pair of shorts under my suit, and change wherever I am appearing. I love it. 

Santa photos are way more fun in a warm climate. For example, only the seriously mentally ill wear their pajamas to the mall to take photos with Santa when it’s -15. In Fort Myers, I must have had 500 families/groups come through the line wearing matching pajamas. That trek across the parking lot is much better when it’s 87 degrees. 

People are more polite down here. I truly enjoyed the fact that a picture with Santa was a family outing and people were kind and respectful. Seriously, the “let’s get this over with” attitude that comes from dragging kids with runny noses and a heavy winter coat to see Santa vanishes. For one thing, even the “crabby” ones were rare. Truly rare. So much so that I can only point to a number you could count on one hand. I love that. 

I got to speak more languages this year than ever before. I spoke with people (albeit in limited, stumbling, moronic phrases on occasion) in French, German, Spanish, English, and Arabic. If you remember the moment in Miracle on 34th Street where Santa speaks in Dutch, you will know what I’m talking about. The children expect you to speak their language. Their parents and grandparents drop their jaws when you start to chat with the child in their language. I am so blessed to have that gift. Just writing this, I am choked up, thinking of how God has allowed me to comfort and brighten lives through language. 

Doing “mall Santa” work was a big change. I’d performed in front of 20,000 people at the Metrodome back in the day, and regularly saw hundreds of families in a day at various venues. But those were all “focused” events for a company or a church, or some other unique group. Being Santa for anyone who comes into the store with a staff of 3-6 elves running the cameras and printing pictures is another story. You are on for 3-5 hours without a significant break. I think I took 3 bathroom breaks in two months. 

And, there’s always someone watching from the balcony, the toy racks beyond your line, and the far end of the store. You must never break character, be on full brightness, and wave to all small children. 

The intensity is draining. The rewards are amazing, and the heart-rending stories are painful. I was moved to tears a few times this season by requests from children and adults. You see, even though they might no longer believe in Santa, they still hope. And they share painful things with you in hopes you can magically fix them. I can’t cure Grandma in the hospital, nor can I fix a broken heart from a divorce, but I can pray for them and did so all the time. 

Now, it’s behind me for a bit. I’m working with a friend to start anew in this market as a “private” Santa. This county is fabulously wealthy, and I know the market will be there if we work at it. But have no fear, I’ll still be there for the Salvation Army and any charity that needs me. 

After all, that’s who Santa should be.


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