I used to be a mall Santa. I dressed up as a hairy, overweight elf to bring joy to children. It was good honest work. Okay…it was honest work. For 3 to 4 hours a day, seven days a week, I would put on a fat suit, stretch the Febrezed beard over my chin, and sit on a green velveted throne while hundreds, nay thousands, of children were placed on my lap. They told me what they wanted for Christmas. I had my picture taken with them, and then I would give them a candy cane and send them on their way.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it? It wasn’t. The worst part wasn’t the children, or the stinky beard the old guy had been wearing for 3 hours before your shift, or the costume that held the body odor from 20 years of Santas before you. It wasn’t even the fact that, by the end of the day, you would have a combination of all the bodily fluids a child can expel on your person. The worst part was the parents.
They were thrilled to have their children on Santa’s lap, but always at the expense of their own children’s sanity. Surprise! Some kids just don’t want to be there! Don’t want to be so close to that big, hairy, moving mound of red and white. Some kids just scream.
But parents don’t want pictures of screaming children on a fat man’s knee. So you might spend twenty minutes trying to get the kid to stop crying. The look on their faces was not fear, but blind, unrelenting terror. The picture taker would prance around holding a squeaky, stuffed animal trying to get the child to forget they were sitting on an enormous mutant elf who may or may not be, judging by his size, hungry for baby.
“Those three hours were relentless.”
There were also wandering groups of teenagers who thought it was funny to climb aboard Santa, all at once, for a gag picture—or the lonely middle aged women who wanted to sit on Santa’s lap because he might actually be a good looking man—or the lonely middle aged men who wanted to sit on Santa’s lap because he might actually be a good looking man. Those 3 hours were relentless.
So why did I do it? Maybe I did it because my Mom ran the booth. Or maybe I did it because, as an actor, it was a fun role to play. Sometimes, when things got slow, I would stand up and sing Christmas carols, and folks just seemed to love that. It was fun hearing what kids wanted for Christmas and it was satisfying to offer some assurance they might get what they wanted.
“Every year I waited for her.”
But there was one other reason. Every year I waited for her. I waited for that one child who reacted to being on Santa’s lap like no other child. It was usually a little girl. She would be between the ages of 2 to 4. Someone would place her on my knee and she would look up at me with eyes wide open with awe and wonder and an unwavering faith. She wouldn’t say a word. She just stared up at me. And then she would open her arms and bury her face in my beard.
No words, no list, no tears, just a hug that seemed to go on forever. She knew I WAS Santa. She knew that everything was going to be okay. And I would say, “Thank you. Merry Christmas.” And the little girl would climb off my knee and run, happily, back to her parents.
That’s what Christmas does for me. Christmas is a promise. Not a promise that life will be easy, but that it’s going to be okay. We can look up in awe and wonder and be certain that His gift, of a Son, will make everything work out all right in the end. Help me, Lord, to be that wide-eyed child of faith. Thank you. Merry Christmas.
[Tim Hartman is an actor, storyteller, singer, and artist. He currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA. See more about him at his website: TimHartman.com.]