Tuning Fork Magazine - December, 2014
I have a vivid memory from Kindergarten. Our teacher, Mrs. Nichols, asked us to tell the class what we wanted to be when we grew up. All the boys picked classic jobs like policeman, baseball player, etc. The girls all wanted to be ballerinas and princesses . . . I asked the teacher how old Santa was and when she thought he might retire. “I would like that job”, I said. - To this day I would still like that job. If you’re important in my life, you might get presents even if we haven’t agreed to exchange gifts. I really don’t care if you give me anything in return, either. I have always been mesmerized by images of Santa Claus and played along with my parents long after I knew what was really up.
It was a very dreary December and it would be the first Christmas I had spent without my daughter, Marissa, at home. My now ex-wife and I split up earlier that summer and although she and my daughter had only moved a little over an hour away it was difficult to handle not having Marissa around the house, especially during the holidays. Like a lot of people, I found it easier to cope by throwing myself into my work.
One day a friend and coworker named David came to my office with a problem. Since I'm a commercial producer, he knew I would have access to holiday props and costumes. (I even have a good friend who is a professional "Little Person" who does elf appearances.) David's family was having a big Christmas celebration and the Santa they hired had canceled at the last minute. He asked if I had ever played Santa in the past. I had not.
After I got over the shock of being categorized as a viable candidate to play the part, I eventually had to face some facts. While at the time I was not far from being large enough to fill out the suit, (a good 50 pounds heavier then I am now,) I was also great with kids and I hoped it might help cheer me up for the holidays. Eventually, I agreed to help David and his family in their time of need. After visiting a local costume shop for a fitting, I began to prepare myself mentally to play the part of "The Jolly One."
I was surprisingly puzzled about how to pull this off effectively. I began to play clips in my head of Santas from every Christmas special I'd seen as a kid. They all seemed mechanical when I tried to emulate them. "Kids are smarter than most adults give them credit," I said to myself as genuine anxiety began to build. It became increasingly important to me to get this right . . . "What if they notice it's not my real beard? . . . My God, I'm going to traumatize some poor unsuspecting child!"
On the day of my visit, I pulled the costume out of the plastic sleeve and began to dress. Something happens when you put on a Santa suit. You catch a glimpse in the mirror and it doesn't register as you anymore. All you see is the man, the myth, the legend . . . St. Nicholas. I had a moment of clarity . . . These kids didn't know me personally so I would stop trying to become a cartoon version of Santa and just be myself. After all, he's FATHER Christmas and I'm a father and a child at heart. It's like someone put in a call to Central Casting. I had this and it would all work itself out as soon as the children came running to greet me.
I secured a wreath to the front of my pine green Jeep Grand Cherokee and Rigged some Christmas lights to the cigarette outlet. I went cascading over the snow-covered hills, toward the beautiful new home just north of town in a joyous flight in my 4-wheel-drive sleigh. Gone was the canned "Ho-ho-ho" and out came my natural laugh with a little extra holiday bass. I was starting to feel a little high.
When I came to the house the kids were already peering out the window. They ate my visit up like Christmas candy. I had been puzzled about what to say until the moment the first child sat on my lap. She was blonde like my daughter and roughly the same age.
"Merry Christmas! What would you like Santa to bring you?" It was at that moment that, like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes that day. In my mind, I was with my daughter and I had no doubt how to behave.
"I love you," I told her. She immediately gave me a gigantic hug and replied, "I love you too, Santa. Merry Christmas!"
"I am Santa!" I thought . . . "Even if only for one night." - Chris Fleck