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 always responds by wearing the rosy face of a veritable fairytale hero. He touches their hair and tells them “Santa loves you.” And when appropriate, he tells them, “Santa is praying for you.”
Last year, a coworker asked if Mike would do a home visit for his infant daughter. Mike agreed, and on one chilly day he showed up in full red-and-white regalia for the visit.
“They couldn’t take her off her medical equipment,” said Mike.
The child was only a few minutes old. She had a tracheotomy and was attached to oxygen. Mike looked at the baby, so pink and small. She couldn’t make a sound, her anatomy wasn’t strong enough. But Mike could see her tiny facial expressions and convulsions whenever she tried to cry.
“It was hard,” he said.
But then, this is simply the kind of thing Santas do.
You might not notice these men unless it’s December, but believe me, they’re out there. And right now they’re gearing up for a tricky holiday season now that COVID has come to town.
Mike belongs to a huge fraternity of Santas with members from Oregon to Virginia. From Australia to Israel. All shapes. All colors. All creeds. And all with the same hellacious dry cleaning bill.
The group’s main discussion this year is, of course, how to keep Christmas special during a pandemic. Because this year lots of shopping malls, department stores, and amusement parks are rethinking the role of Santa. And by “rethinking” I mean “cancelling.”
Some stores already don’t foresee any scenarios where kids will be sitting on Santa’s lap. Parades are being canned. Parties are being scrubbed. And we’re not even within spitting distance of Thanksgiving yet.
Not to mention that about 20 million people are unemployed after COVID, and one out of every four adults admits to having trouble paying bills since the pandemic. It’s shaping up to be a hard candy Christmas for a lot of children.
But this has not thwarted the regimen of men in crimson and arctic-white. This is not the first pandemic Saint Nicholas has endured, and it won’t be his last. No matter how hard things become, you cannot kill a 1,749-year-old Jolly Elf.
Thousands of Santas across the globe are re-imagining new, creative ways to bring Christmas to kids this year.
“I’ll be at a local mall,” said Mike. “I’ll be riding around in a train and stopping at various locations. Kids will be six feet away, but we’ll be able to do pictures.”
Other Santas will be doing personal appearances on front lawns, porches, and in parking lots. Even more will be doing video calls. A company named Jingle Ring is catering to military families with virtual Santa sessions for deployed parents. The idea is simple: on a family’s monitor screen will be kids, active-duty parents, and Mister Kringle himself.
As I write this, troops of Santas are gathering twice per week to train on high-tech video equipment for the upcoming onslaught of Christmas video calls. If you can just imagine the milk and cookies being consumed at these things.
“It’s fascinating,” says Mike, “to see a hundred or so Santas and Mrs. Clauses working so hard. I’ve been very inspired by these guys who really see being Santa as their mission in life.”
Because, of course, it is their mission. For within all this world there is nothing so real and abiding as Santa Claus. Thank God, he lives, and lives forever. A thousand years from now; ten times ten thousand years from now. He lives despite war, famine, sadness, and in the throes of a sweeping pandemic. May he continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
God bless you, Santa. And God bless your dry cleaner.
Deborah L Blount - November 2, 2020 7:02 am
Judge - November 2, 2020 11:51 am
Ho! Ho! Ho!
Brownsburg Santa - November 2, 2020 12:15 pm
Great article. -Brownsburg Santa.
Heidi - November 2, 2020 1:09 pm
If Santa’s still come, there’s hope.
Phil - November 2, 2020 1:41 pm
Great one, Sean. Suggested viewing: the 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street. It’s still my all-time favorite Christmas movie, followed (in second place) by A Christmas Story.
bittersweet2730 - November 2, 2020 1:54 pm
A great article about an even greater man.
Bud McLaughlin - November 2, 2020 2:04 pm
Thank you Sean for showing the Santas’ humanity and warmth that most folks don’t really see.
Mark Stewart - November 2, 2020 4:19 pm
Its been my joy to be among the Santas when I had a full beard. My wife and I would notice young children staring at me many times in regular clothes. The best was one day in Dollar Tree when I felt a tug on my pants. I looked down into the upturned face of a little girl who asked,”Are you Santa Claus?” O f course I said I was.
kontaktpatricia - November 2, 2020 4:47 pm
I don’t know why, but reading this brought me to tears. Not just a trickle down my cheek, no. A flow of hurt and sorrow that I still don’t know for what. I haven’t cried in a long time. Maybe I just needed to. I don’t know whether to say thank you or I hate you. But I love you.
Sandi. - November 2, 2020 4:59 pm
Yes, Sean, there really is a Santa Claus.
AlaRedClayGirl - November 2, 2020 5:05 pm
Bless these men who are working to keep innocence and joy in children’s lives even during these crazy times.
Linda Moon - November 2, 2020 5:33 pm
We need the kinds of kind things that Santas and people like Mike do. We’d all rather hear about Santa coming to town than COVID any day. Santa IS real…you better believe it. The love of God abides in him and others, including Saint Sean, who make our hearts glad with memories of childhoods with Santa!
Carol Parker - November 2, 2020 5:33 pm
What an inspiring story. I love Santa 🎅 and I’m 85 years old.
D - November 2, 2020 7:06 pm
Sean, Once again, you nailed it. As most of us know, it’s not about the presents or the tree, or the trips to the mall, it’s about spreading Love and Good cheer! So, THANK YOU, Sean! We’ve never needed it more! – And a Merry Christmas to you and your dear wife!! – DiAn
Betty F. - November 2, 2020 7:46 pm
Thanks so much for that perfectly time poignant column in these divided times. You are often a balm for the soul, but this one was super soothing. That sketch of Santa! Wow!
Jane - November 2, 2020 7:47 pm
Nancy M - November 3, 2020 1:58 am
Santa! This is a wonderful column! And your drawing of Santa – so kind and gentle.
Suzanne Moore - November 3, 2020 1:59 am
We need Santa this year,just as we always do. I am so thankful for all the Mike’s out there who feel this calling. Thank you,Sean, for sharing your wisdom and your heart with us.
Mary - November 3, 2020 2:43 pm
So heartwarming ! St Nicholas is alive and well in this world, we just have to believe
Chasity Davis Ritter - November 4, 2020 4:34 am
I’ve worked for wmrt for 21 years. During that time I’ve taken the pictures, been Mrs Claus, Santa’s Elf, the Easter Bunny, and dressed as different characters to to the October safety tours we used to do with the grade school tours. I’ve painted more faces for Children’s Miracle Network than I can count or remember. It was always the best part of the adventure. My hands were once even seen on News Channel 5 painting faces. Hands only but my mom knew it was me lol. I’m not in the league of these Santa’s your story is about but I’ve heard the babies in those family pictures and unwittingly became a part of their holiday memories. It makes me smile sometimes. A few years in a row I had pictures taken with the same family as the kids grew. Maybe they asked “momma who is that lady in all our pictures?” Maybe they don’t notice and I blend into the photo just like Santa did but it’s nice to be part of tradition. I know this year traditions have had to change. We find ways to make new ones perhaps. We adapt. But hopefully, just hopefully we find our Christmas spirit because Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus!
Santa Parker - November 4, 2020 6:16 pm
I am a Virgina Santa, I will be out and about this Christmas. We are needed right now, we are an escape from the harsh realities of today’s world. I’m not charging for my home visits this year, it is my duty and responsibility as a Brother in Red to spread the Joy, Peace and Love of Christmas.
Joann Thompson - November 4, 2020 9:40 pm
Santa is so important in a child’s life. My heart broke for my 7 year-old granddaughter several years ago when her mother (my ex-DIL) decided in a fit of “honesty” to tell her there was no Santa, God, or Son of God. This was less than a month after the divorce was announced to the children. Of course 7 year-olds are on the cusp of discovering the truth of Santa for themselves, but she didn’t need yet another disappointment that year. I’ve had a hard time forgiving that.
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