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We have just completed two neighborhood parades and a handful of Zoom calls in front of our colorful Christmas tree lights. Being Santa Claus in 2020 looks and feels quite different, but the indescribable joy remains.

I think I may have included some of this in a previous post, but it bears repeating for the purpose of telling this story.

5 years ago, I was looking for smoked salmon at Costco, “when what to my wondering eyes should appear,” but a real-life Santa approaching our cart. He came up to my husband and said, “Pardon my asking, but have you ever considered being Santa Claus? You have smiling eyes, great hair and a good Santa ‘look’.” My husband was a little taken aback, but responded that his wife had mentioned he should consider it one day. Costco Santa went on to explain that he was offering a Santa school in the fall, that we should sign up, and handed us his business card. The rest, as they say, is history.

After attending the 2-day Santa school, we left there dazed and bewildered from everything we had seen and experienced over that weekend. There aren’t sufficient adjectives to describe this event. First, just picture over 100 Santas in one large room. We quickly learned that you don’t just show up in a suit and shout, “Ho, Ho, Ho!” You need more than one good-quality suit (you never know when you might need to change); you need liability insurance and a background check (what a world); you need a good marketing plan, head shot, and a business Facebook page (please help us, tech-savvy children!); you need a ‘real’ beard and a great hair-dye treatment (no yellow or purple Santa hair!); you need a good, off-the-cuff background story; you need to memorize reindeer names and Twas the Night Before Christmas - you get the idea.

I also attended a few “Mrs. Claus” classes - enough to confirm that I preferred the helping-elf role. I’m more of a behind-the-scenes organizer and task follower, so I’ve enjoyed setting up the gigs, writing contracts, packing the Santa bag of necessities for each gig, and applying makeup so that it lasts even when Santa is in the full, plush suit and hat in an 80 degree room.

There is a fellowship, understanding and network among these Santas like none other. It’s almost as if they’ve seen or been privy to something otherworldly and you soon realize you are an outsider. This is not intended to be rude or exhibit a “better than you” attitude - it just is how it is. They truly are a brotherhood - sharing “war stories”, tips of the trade, and supporting each other by filling in when a Santa becomes ill. They are wonderful at taking a new Santa “under their wing” to help him learn the ropes and find opportunities to portray the jolly fellow.

Our first gig was at a fairly large and well-known store in north Georgia. We were both nervous as Santa was escorted through the store in his regular clothes toward the changing and breakroom area. We glanced at the beautiful, overstuffed chair by the fireplace and a 15-foot decorated tree. Three elves stood poised by the cameras and waiting area. This was all for him! Wow.

I stayed with him long enough to place the water bottle discreetly behind the chair, adjust the hat, hand him a breath mint, and squeeze his hand. Then I took my place around the corner where I could peek and see some of the action. I can’t even describe the feeling I experienced when that first little boy climbed onto Santa’s lap. The truly magical part was watching how my husband, an accounting and stockholder services manager for over 30 years, fell so naturally into this new role. He looked so comfortable and at ease, smiling eyes and all. My heart was pounding as I watched the children in line excitedly pointing to this man I knew so well. I overheard a few parents talking about how much he looked like the “real Santa” and how much better he was than the skinny, fake-bearded guy from last year. Let’s just say, we don’t have to use any pillows in our Santa suits. It was hard not to grin and say, “he’s with me - not bad for a first-timer, huh?!”

There is nothing like seeing someone you care for bring that much joy into that many people’s lives. Since beginning this retirement “career,” we have visited assisted living facilities, children’s hospitals, cancer units, county daycare facilities for those with special needs, neighborhood clubhouses, holiday parties, a pet adoption fundraiser (yes, with dogs of multiple sizes and temperaments) and several retail businesses.

I know a lot of people feel that Santa Claus and all of the commercialism usually associated with Christmas are a distraction from the real meaning of this season. But, I have seen another side. When you are able to bring a smile to someone who is lonely and scared while receiving cancer treatments; or brighten the day of someone whose child will spend the Christmas holidays in the hospital; or show love and share laughter with older adults who get just as excited to see Santa as the littlest children, it is nothing short of spiritual and miraculous. You can see the pain in people’s eyes, but you can also see the light and hope when they suddenly recall precious Christmas memories. One woman in her 90’s went to her room to get her baby doll to show to Santa. She told him the doll was a Christmas present from Santa when she was 6 years old. Santa replied, “I remember!” She teared up and gave him a big hug, and said, “Thank you, Santa.”

At the end of each Christmas season, I am always somewhat relieved that it’s over. Even though it is fun work, it is still a lot of work and usually is pretty much non-stop from the days following Thanksgiving until, and in some cases including, Christmas Eve. But Santa (or at least the one I know) never shares those feelings - no matter how exhausted he may be, he is never ready to see it end.

It’s not the same this year, for sure, but we have still seen excitement and joy in the faces of children AND their parents. This year especially, it seems everyone is looking for something to smile about. Be careful, though, if you’re smiling while doing your shopping at Costco. Your life may be forever changed.

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Thank you for sharing the "ins and outs" of being Santa. We know your Santa and love him because he has such an amazing heart for doing good. Wishing you both a very Merry Christmas!

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