And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that truly be said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!
As I write this it is two weeks before Thanksgiving and already the Christmas trees, decorations, television advertising, and festive coffee containers are assaulting our senses every waking hour. Too early. Too much.
But like everything else in our lives this is just another opportunity to focus on what is important today and let tomorrow take care of itself. It will be here soon enough.
One date that I already have marked on my calendar is “Santa at Day School,” December 8, 2021.
Thanks to my dear friend Valerie Bauerlein Jackson, this has been an honor and a tradition since 2014, when she reached out to me with a deal and a free suit. Would I be willing to be Santa for the St. Michael’s Parish Day School? It didn’t take long for me to say yes. Had I known the experiences that awaited me, I would have said yes even faster.
I was not without experience.
My then college girlfriend, Hayden Gwaltney, made me a different sort of offer in our senior year at William and Mary. The Tri-Delts had rented a Santa suit from the local fire house and needed a guy to play St. Nick one winter evening in early December. I clearly remember restating the particulars which seemed hard to believe.
“So, I am going to dress up in this suit, sit in a big comfy chair at the sorority house and you and all your beautiful sisters are going to come sit on my lap wearing your pajamas, night gowns, or whatever y’all sleep in. Yes, I am free that night, or any night for that matter.”
So, wind the clock forward 43 years. I’ve now played Santa for two wonderful daughters and one granddaughter. I’ve assembled tricycles, bicycles, Barbie Cars, and made midnight dashes to the Rite Aid for “batteries not included.” I have heard the pitter patter of kiddie feet running down the steps and those squeals of joy. I have arisen from bed on many Christmas mornings feeling as though I had been around the world in one night. But it had been over 40 years since I had worn the red uniform and officially been the Jolly Old Elf.
And this would be an audience of believers, watching my every move, gesture, and comment. How would it feel?
Well, if you’ve ever wondered what it is like to be Paul McCartney, Bruce Springstein, or fill-in-the blank with your favorite superstar. If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to walk out on that stage and look into the eyes of awe-struck fans. If you’ve ever wondered what it's like to make dreams come true. There is only one way to achieve all of this. Rent the suit and get a gig.
My role model was the guy who was our traditional Santa at my old parish in Maryland. He was a delightful gentleman named Frank Krantz. A brilliant engineer who held numerous patents and was as comfortable talking about gothic architecture as he was 20th century theology, Frank had a basso profundo voice that made him central casting’s idea of the perfect Santa. When he would fling open the window overlooking the parish auditorium (an anachronistic detail left over from an earlier renovation) and give that first “Ho,Ho,Ho” of the season to the squealing day school kids and their cheering parents, Christmas had begun. Frank loved that job. I know why.
It's those little faces.
They look at you with love and hope and expectation and complete innocence. They are without guile or division or hate. The eyes are bright; the smiles are so real they will melt your heart. Watch out Mr. Grinch, you don’t stand a chance in this crowd.
A few are afraid. After all, the guy is big, red, loud, and in-your-face. It’s like a fire engine coming down the sidewalk towards you. The fearful are a challenge, but even if we don’t connect after all the St. Nick tricks, and only wave from a distance, that’s OK for both of us. They are happy and Santa does not take it personally. At over 1700 years old, you gain a certain amount of emotional maturity.
In the spirit of kids say the darndest things, here are my favorite quotes so far:
“Remember me from the Mall?”
“Just between us, I want a horse”
“I don’t want anything, but I’d like a shirt for my dad”
“Can you get a house for my family?”
“We don’t have a chimney, but I will leave the front door unlocked”
“My brother broke my PAW Patrol truck the first dang week I had it”
“My dog’s name is Hunter. I don’t think he’ll bite you”
So, as I pull my Santa suit out of the bag, dust off my boots, and comb my beard and wig, I hope you think of me on December 8 and of all your experiences with that Jolly Old Elf. I hope that you’ll keep the spirit of the season alive. I hope that whether you gather around the Menorah, the Christmas tree, or the Creche that you’ll open your hearts to each other and do your part to repair our World.
Because, keeping Christmas well isn’t magic, it’s love.