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It’s November, but Mike is already getting the red velveteen suit from the closet. Because Christmas is getting closer, and Saint Nicholas has work to do. Namely, his dry cleaning.

The first time they ever asked Mike to play Santa he was hurt by the suggestion. Sure, he’s a bigger guy, but he didn't see himself as having a “bowlful of jelly” tummy. Still, when someone asks you to play Father Christmas they aren’t exactly asking you to pose for a Calvin Klein underwear ad.

“Yeah, I've always been overweight, but I was a little offended,” said Mike.

He played Santa anyway, and he had big fun. It came easy to him because he’s a nice guy with a cheerful face. He looks like the real deal. Over the years he’s grown into his role.

“My first professional gig was at PetSmart, in a cheap Party City suit, posing with animals. The ferrets were a hoot. But fifteen minutes before I was done, I saw this woman in line holding plastic boxes... Snakes, it had to

be snakes.”

After that, the Santa gigs kept rolling in. Soon it had become more than just a job. Mike realized he was tending to the wonder and imaginations of children.

Many people might not see the role of Santa as that important, but just think about it: where would your childhood have been without the Big Guy? It would have been in the pits, that’s where.

The magic of youth is easily extinguished by a stiff breeze. It is only kept alive by men and women who guard it with their lives. Every time a Santa puts on his suit, he is defending innocence. And every year he hears the same things all practicing Saints hear.

“My dog died.”

“My mom has cancer, I’m scared.”

“Can you bring back my dad from Heaven?”

“Will foster parents ever want to adopt me?”

And Mike…

This street is lined with dozens of houses decorated with Christmas lights in mid-November. I wish you could see them. There is a whole row of homes, glowing multicolored in the night. My wife and I are on a joyride hunting for lit-up houses this evening.

Decorations abound. We see plastic Santas in front yards with electronic arms waving at us, which is creepy. There are enormous plasticized snow globes with artificial blizzards. Fiberglass reindeer, grazing in yards. And oh, the bright, twinkling, blinking, flickering lights.

I never knew Christmas lights in autumn could bring me such joy. Never.

That’s 2020 for you.

People are doing festivities earlier this year. Everyone’s getting in on the action. I know a guy who put up his tree three weeks before Halloween. And I know a lady who let her kids open some of their presents this week.

This pandemic has changed everything. And everyone.

Take me. When I began writing this column years ago, most of my writings were intended to be funny. I love

humor. I was always the clown in school, and I could make milk exit the nostrils of even the most hardened fourth graders.

But then along came a pandemic and I turned into a big sack of blubbery emotion. Being humorous just felt irreverent in light of mounting death tolls, mortality rates, and sad headlines. It would have been like bringing a whoopee cushion to a Saturday night prayer meeting. Which I have never done.

The COVID era changed me as a human being. But also as a writer. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. And I shudder to think about what my current critics might say about that last sentence.

Because, heaven knows, that’s another thing that’s changed in this world. Some people have become hyper-critical. I receive a handful of nasty emails each morning from disgruntled people I’ve never met who, for some…


My mom read me what you wrote about Santa last week and I’m not sure about him. Just being real. ‘Cause if people with the fake beards go play him at the stores then that means he’s not real, so he’s not, right? My mom told me to write you about it.

My parents are divorced this year. My dad has a beard too. My mom just bought me a fruitcake at Walmart and it’s yummy. I never had fruitcake till she got it, and I’m ready for Christmas this year! Sometimes I get sad but I really like your stories.

Please write back,


I agree with you wholeheartedly on the fruitcake. It’s delicious. But—wait a second—it’s too early for Christmas!

Still, because of this pandemic I think almost everyone is ready for a little “Fa-la-la-a-la” right now. So I totally get it.

You're lucky to be spending the holidays in lovely Virginia. And even though Christmastime is a ways off, I wish I were spending it there, too.

Once, I

spent the holidays in that general region when I was younger than you, which is why your letter hit home with me. I’ll never forget it. We were temporarily staying with my aunt in a tiny fleck-on-the-map town in North Carolina.

It was a tough year. My mother was thinking of leaving my father, we were there sorting out our lives. There were heavy feelings in the air. It majorly stunk.

But anyway, my aunt’s house was the berries. I loved it. I spent most of my time ice skating on her kitchen linoleum floor, wearing socks. I was a good kitchen-skater. I could do all the things real skaters did. Triple Axels, Lutzes, quadruple inverted double underpants-splitters, etc.

The only problem was, the kitchen had a floor heater that looked like a throwback to the Revolutionary War. It was old and rusty…

When I was a boy, I used to have immoral thoughts about turkey gravy.

Cars line our street. Everyone’s family is in town. The smells of the Thanksgiving are what get me the most, they are all over the neighborhood. My wife is in the kitchen contributing a few merry aromas of her own.

There is a parade of scents coming from our place. Holiday candles, cinnamon apples, corn casserole. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but my dogs have escaped from the backyard and are running around playing with what can only be described as a rotting raccoon carcass.

My dog, Thelma Lou (bloodhound), enjoys carcasses of all kinds. She is a carcass connoisseur you could say. She will roll in anything that vaguely smells like decomposing flesh. She will also roll in anything that smells like goat excrement until there are bits of what appear to be squashed brownies embedded within her fur. Which brings up a very good point:


Not in all my life have I ever smelled anything I loved enough to roll in. With the exception of,

perhaps, my mother’s turkey gravy. Which I always think about during Thanksgiving. I love turkey gravy.

When I was a boy, I used to have immoral thoughts about turkey gravy. I would lie in bed and stare at tri-fold photographs of gravy from glossy cooking magazines like “Bon Appétit” or “The Betty Crocker Cookbook.” I don’t know why, but turkey gravy speaks to me.

Turkey gravy isn’t complicated. Once, my mother showed me how she made it. It was painfully simple—basically it was just turkey juices and a few herbs.

Then again, the women in my family were Thanksgiving Day magicians who knew their way around more than just gravy. I can remember when my aunt would take over the kitchen during the holidays. She would make mashed potatoes, cornbread dressing, sweet potato pie, and my mother would be cooking a turkey that was big enough to saddle up…