Baklava, snapshots, camouflage, and knit caps.

I was discussing Santa pricing with a friend/customer/business associate the other day and we both laughed about my process. I charge what I want when I want.

BUT THAT’S NOT FAIR. Gee, really? I had noticed it but was afraid to change my ways.

Not really. I have a simple rule on pricing: your price never goes up, and sometimes goes down as long as you are with me each year. And for one customer they can skip years and the price stays the same (my first customer that I got “on-my-own” and they hold a special spot in my heart.)

Why would I do that? It’s simple: it works. My customers are loyal, refer others to me, and will usually throw in more than my fee after a few years. And they become friends. If they skip a year, move the event way out into the woods (one did a few years ago and it was an extra hour of driving and gas so the rate went up a little bit,) or turn it from a family gathering of 12 to 75 business associates then the rate goes up. But not much.

In some cases the rate drops. Case in point is one of my corporate clients, Midtown Global Market. I love going there each year. I started with them the first year they had a Santa. Santa Dan and I split the dates and I had a great time. I get to see a bunch of children there who will never see Santa at a major mall. Those kids, inner city kids, are worthy of Santa’s love as well. It’s who Nicholas was in real life. And I get to blow a few minds by chatting with them in my very bad Spanish and my pretty good Arabic. I’d better learn some Somali for next year. Kids of all races and creeds come to see Santa. And if that love I have for them reflects on God’s glory for even a moment or two, then I’ve made my point and shown my faith. No preaching, just quiet prayer over small children in my heart.

I also get to see a lot of kids from families who have come to visit each year of their children’s lives. The value of that to me is incalculable. So this year when they trimmed me back to two dates I threw in a third for free. Yup, took a pay cut. That’s part of my “ministry” of praying over my visitors. I got a chance to see people that couldn’t come on the two dates they booked me for in the beginning. And working free on one of the busiest Saturdays of the Santa season was a joy.

“How can that be so special that you’d take a pay cut?” I have a card on my desk that explains it best. Inside the card is a note thanking me for my being there each year. And there are 4 pictures inside. The pictures are of twin girls from infancy to age 3+ (they came to two events this year.) And I have the honor of being “their Santa.” Money plays no part in that kind of devotion and love. They trust me with their daughters and I plan on being there for them for some years to come.

Another customer paid me in Baklava this year. It’s a friend of mine who gets me a nice gift each year for taking the time to visit their grandchildren and cousins/nieces/nephews/etc. They are a large Greek family and all of them are great cooks. I had conned them out of a small tin of the good stuff a few years ago and was optimistic to score another. As I got ready to leave the hostess handed me enough Baklava for 20 people. I was gobsmacked. It weighed a ton. Loaded with honey, philo dough, nuts, spices, and love. I’d visit them just to watch the kids grow – now they get to watch Santa grow.

The knit cap? I am a proud member of Pack 419 and they awarded me an official Cub Scout hat for their pack. Again, I watched them grow from their first year in Cub Scouts until they leave the organization. In the next year (if my calculations are correct) the first of them will be earning their Eagle Scout rank. I hope they remember Santa and send a picture of both events. I’d be so proud to put that one up on my cube wall.

And the last group are my Army friends. I’ve been priveledged to be their Santa for a number of years now. As a veteran I wanted to give back to the people who took up where I left off. And the stunning thought hit me this year for the first time – every one of the people over E-4 that came to see me is probably a combat veteran. I’m honored to be with them on that day each year that they celebrate the birth of Christ. They give so much for all of us each time they don the uniform. And the wounds are there to prove it, visible or not. A great group of men and women.

But the world never changes all that much or all that quickly. And inside each of us is that little kid who looked forward to peeking around the corner and catching Santa at his work. Hopefully you never grow past the point where the magic infects you and you can laugh and smile with your peers. I have two pictures of uniformed kids at the edges of the age range that prove it each time I look at the pictures. See if you can spot the similarity between the pictures. All of them believe in Santa Claus. And he believes in them.

Pack 419

Army "kids"

And, just fyi I have to throw in a Stormy picture – she’s doing fine.

Bribery is the quickest way to a dog's heart.

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