Over the past fifteen years I’ve picked up on a couple of things that might be helpful to other Santas, and possibly even to you. Not overly deep in most cases, but it’s the stuff you think about driving around in a suit that screams, “TAKE PICTURES OF ME AT THE NEXT STOPLIGHT!!!!!”
Without further ado:
You are being paid to work. Never phone it in. No matter how tired, sick, or overwhelmed you are feeling, give them 100% of what you’ve got. It’s an hour of your time. It’s the biggest hour of their year.
Carry a roll of duct tape tied into the cord on your toy bag. It comes in handy for repairing the damage done by rampaging four-year-olds. Nothing looks worse than Santa with a fur stip dragging behind him that used to be the hem on the suit. Duct tape fixes most things.
Smile when you’re doing your makeup. If you frown and concentrate too much, that sets the tone for the day. Big smiles, chuckles, and a laugh go a long way toward making your face the right shape for the work on the horizon.
Don’t eat onions, garlic, curry. Do eat jalapenos. They taste good and don’t wreck your breath.
Hide from the public in Kosher restaurants. The owners smile, you get some peace and quiet, and very few children in the joint will care about your drinking coffee and reading your Kindle.
Let the world touch your face. Little hands find wonder in that beard. So do hands crippled with arthritis. You bring that thing (the beard) along anyway, so let people enjoy it with you.
Keep your shoes shined and your buckle shiny. It’s a sign of respect for your customers and friends.
Remember that the adults like to enjoy the time with you as well. Tell a joke. Pray with them. Let them sit on your knee for a picture.
Soft words and slow movements are more jolly and soothing than feigned frivolity. You need to make yourself available and open – the rest will come with time.
Plan on your drive meeting obstacles. There will be an accident, road construction, a protest, or a storm. Start out early and drive around a bit when you get to your destination. You might learn something, or see something cool. Never be late.
Sing a song now and again. You know you can’t sing well, but the children think it’s cool. It’s their party, enjoy it!
Have a box of Cliff bars in the back seat. Sit in an empty parking lot behind a warehouse and take a breather. Best time of the day on occasion.
Parents who plop their child down regardless of the tears seem to be better parents. They know that unless you take some recoverable dents early on, you’ll be more damaged when it all happens as an adult. You’re not going to win them all. Learn to take a hit and recover. I see this at least 500 times a year. The parents who don’t want to traumatize their child seem to be doing them more harm than good. Nobody is a special snowflake forever. I count the time every time: most tears last for less than five seconds once they are back in mom’s arms. The question you probably should ask is: Who’s running the outfit?
Make a few visits for free each year. It’s not all about the money. Find a charity, or two, and never accept any money from them no matter what. Give a bit of your soul over to making others happy. It is a magnificent feeling.
Take some time off and take your wife out to dinner. You both need the break.
Invest in good boots. Wear them once every month to keep them limber. Buy a second pair once you’re in demand. That way you have a spare pair when they get wet. Keep both pairs shiny.
Organize your suits and items in July (or earlier) so that you’re ready to go for the season. I actually always have one suit that I keep as a spare. That way if a hospital calls for a visit to a terminal patient in January, I don’t have to scramble to meet this important need. My closet will be fully squared away and ready to go by January 6th: all suits repaired, fur cleaned, spare gloves, shined belt and buckle. No longer do I dread “all that work” in November. It’s long since in the rear view mirror.
Say hello to each person you encounter. Pray for every one you meet. Pray out loud if they seem to be in need. It does make a difference. Bring that joy right along with you like a good reindeer.
Children in the projects and in the mansion on the lake are exactly alike. They are thrilled to see Santa. If you don’t visit both in any given year, you’ve missed out on a child that could use your time. Try to do an equal number of visits to those in need and those who pay your way.
Keep an eye out for a nice teddy bear. You never know when an aching heart will need it.
Grandparents in the hospital seem to hurt worse than mom and dad. Let everyone else do their thing for a few minutes and pray with Grandpa. In all my years of doing this, he’s the one in the most pain. Be sincere, don’t promise, just understand. You must remember they’re all kids at heart and a moment with Santa can truly heal.
Say Merry Christmas to everyone. Even if they are clearly not of your faith. Do it in as many languages as you can muster. That startled look is replaced with a smile at least 90% of the time. It brings Christ’s message home: I love you even if I don’t agree with you.
Speaking with a four-year-old in his language is utterly priceless. Learn some simple phrases in a few languages and use them to bring that love home.
Drunks are usually painful to deal with as Santa. Keep that in mind next time you’re planning on drinking. Most of the world is way less amused than you are. I say this as a guy who consumed a tanker truck full of spirits in my time. I hope you have a safe, and sober, Christmas holiday.
It’s okay to shed a tear when your heart is breaking. If you’re worth anything as Santa that will happen most days. But you have to be listening and watching to have the experience. Don’t just perform, live the model that Nicholas of Myra left to follow.
Get some sleep. Take the Ibuprofen needed to deal with swollen feet and a sore back from your throne. Eat a hot meal every day. (Easier said than done.) Drink enough water. Remember that you’re mortal.
Make sure the parents get into the photo as well. Things change and that record of a happy moment is priceless.
Take time with God each day. I try to pray for every child and every family. God does listen. Pray especially hard for the ones that don’t treat you well.
Keep your clients notified of changes. Confirm your visits. Nothing stranger than showing up at the office party for the eighth straight year and finding an empty office and a new management team listed on the masthead.
Thank the doctors and nurses at the children’s hospital. They are Santa throughout the year in an exceptionally demanding job.
Stop what you are doing and look around at the people surrounding you. They love you and that’s priceless.
That battered old wicker chair you hated the first year is now a prized part of your life. Ten years in, you’d be sad to find a new chair replacing it – you’ve finally worn it to your satisfaction.
Leave something of yourself behind at each visit. A kind word, a special ornament, a smile on the memory disk. Don’t be there for the check, be there to celebrate.
This will be my final post until after Christmas. I hope your world is a glistening reminder of God’s love this Christmas. Celebrate the birth of a savior and the love of your family. Remember that all of it goes by at the speed of a sleigh in the sky.