Tuesday, I performed as Santa Claus for Holly’s Youth Choir. It’s the first time that I’ve ever performed as Santa for children and I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I kept thinking, “At what age do kids start not believing in Santa?”, and I had visions of kids staging a mutiny and saying things like, “That’s not Santa!”, or “I know who that is,” and pulling off my bead. For some, playing the role of Hamlet may be the role of a lifetime, but Tuesday, it was me playing the most well known and beloved holiday character in the world – Santa.
How I Got The Suit
There was a department store in Baton Rouge called Godchaux’s (pronounced “god shaws” ). It was the premier store in town and also was a local store to boot. Even when Dillard’s and other stores came to town, everyone still shopped at Godchaux’s. Godchaux’s was fancy and was very tied to the community, so it was more ingrained in the local culture than any other store. Founded in New Orleans, Godchaux’s had several stores, the largest in Baton Rouge in fact, and it was a mainstay of Louisiana life. Unfortunately, the store eventually fell on hard times, or the owners wanted to sell, I don’t know which, but in the late 80’s Godchaux was sold and went out of business.
When the going out of business sale started it was absolute bedlam. I remember going down there to pick something up for Holly. She couldn’t make the final day and sent me as her proxy to pick up a piece of furniture or something, I can’t remember the details. As I walked around the store, it felt like there was a fire in the store and the shoppers only had minutes left to shop. I’m not kidding, people were everywhere snatching things up and the registers had lines a mile long. Since I was only there to pickup something Holly had on hold, I was much more relaxed and just taking in the spectacle.
When I got near the loading docks, and had Holly’s purchase in hand, I noticed a small rack off to the side. On the rack were costumes. They had Santa suits, Easter Bunny suits and a few others. These were the actual suits used in the store during the holidays and they were really really nice suits. I don’t remember the exact price, but I think they were going for $100 each, maybe more, because I wanted to buy them all, but couldn’t afford it at the time. I opted for the Santa suit, since that seemed to me at the time to have more value than the Easter Bunny – I could see getting more use out it.
Things were so crazy at the store, that I didn’t inspect the suit very closely when I was there. I checked to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, but I didn’t inspect it heavily for fear that some crazed shopper would snatch it out of my hands. When I got home, I opened it up, inspected it, and tried it on.
It’s one of the nicest suits that I’ve ever seen. The coat is fully lined and has actual fur for the collars. The label inside the coat says that it should be laundered by a furrier. The pants are huge and some of the loops have snapped, but it’s all wool. The beard is fantastic and firmly attaches to the chin easily. There was a hat and wig I think, but I’ve lost it through all our many moves. As I stood there in the mirror with the outfit on, it was clear that I had made a wise purchase. This was the Santa suits to end all Santa suits.
Why I haven’t worn it more is beyond me. For some reason there hasn’t been an opportunity is my only defense. I did wear it for a business function when I worked at the SIF many years ago. It was an association meeting in December and I wore it as a surprise to the other members. However, since it was an adult function, it was more of a drunken reveille than anything and it wasn’t all that fun. All I did was scream “Ho ho ho!” and sweat my ass off. The experience was barely tolerable and thinking back on it now, that’s probably where I lost the hat and wig.
Completing The Suit
Holly likes to do little things for the kids she teaches at certain times of the year. For example, around Halloween she’ll make little treat bags to give everyone after rehearsal. This year she was having an extra rehearsal and thus was closer to Christmas than she’s been in previous years, so she asked if we still had the suit. I dug in the coat closet and found that I did and pulled it out. After putting it on and seeing what was missing, it was clear that I had a few items that I needed to purchase to complete the suit. I needed boots, a hat and a mustache; everything else seemed to be there. So the next morning I went shopping.
Near our house is a party store and that was the first place that I stopped. In looking at the Santa costumes, it was clear that I needed more than a mustache and a hat. I purchased a hat, wig with beard, eyebrows, gloves, and small rectangular glasses that fit on the end of your nose. The only item left was to find some boots, and I found a perfect pair at Wal-Mart. They were rubber, but had a high sheen to them like black patent leather. They are designed to be worn in high water, but they looked great as Santa boots.
Finding My Motivation
Now that the costume was complete, I could relax a little and think about how to play Santa. I had been practicing my “Ho Hos” and “Merry Christmas” throughout the rest of the day, but past that I really hadn’t thought about what I was going to do. Other than a couple of catch phrases, I didn’t really have any real plan of how I was going to act, or what I was going to say. I was starting to get nervous about it too. The last thing I wanted to do was mess up in front of the kids. Santa is such an icon and I didn’t want to do, or say the wrong thing.
I got to the Church early so that I could find a place to change into the costume. I needed to find a place where the kids couldn’t see, or find me, because once they did, I didn’t think there would be any way for Holly to keep their attention. I found that the room usually used as a cry room on Sunday’s is actually the “Bride’s Room.” This is where the bride gets ready for her wedding, so there’s a vanity area with mirrors and a full length mirror near the door. The best part is that the door locks, so this made a perfect place for me to change.
I started taking out all the items that I purchased that day to inspect them and try them on. The eyebrows were a joke. There was no way those were going to work, so I put them aside. The beard that came with my suit was really nice, but without the mustache, it wasn’t going to work. Luckily, the wig and beard I purchased looked like it was going to do the trick. They were two separate pieces, but they worked well together. The only problem I had was keeping the mustache up in place, it kept wanting to slide down past my mouth. I looked at the back of the eyebrows and noticed that there was a strip of adhesive for them, so I removed it from the eyebrow and attached it to the back of the mustache and it worked perfectly.
Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I put on the entire costume. The pants were cinched around my waist. I stuffed a throw pillow under my t-shirt and put the coat over it; the elastic belt held the pillow in place. I slipped the boots on over my socks and tucked the bottom of the pants legs into the each boot. I left enough material out so that it bloused over the end of the boot, which gave it a nice effect. Slipping on the wig, beard, hat and glasses my costume was complete. I stood and looked in the mirror and couldn’t believe my eyes – I was Santa.
When Holly arrived at the church, I had changed back into my regular clothes and gave her my game plan. There were two chairs that I had setup next to the Christmas tree. It was all lit up and made a perfect staging area. When rehearsal was over, Holly was to ask the kids, “Are you ready for Christmas?” to get the kids to holler “Yes!”. She’d ask the question again in order to make them shout louder and then I’d enter the Church and say something and lead them out to the tree.
It was a good plan, but that’s not how it went. The rehearsal was for a performance by all the kids of St. Edwards for Christmas Eve, not just Holly’s youth choir. Holly and I are going to be out of town then, so another choir director, Deb, was going to lead the kids that day, and thus was leading the rehearsal. This coupled with the fact that there were other children besides Holly’s usual youth choir made things a little hectic. Holly wasn’t technically in charge of the rehearsal and neither was Deb for that matter, but that’s another story.
I was sitting in the “Bride’s Room” back in costume and waiting for my cue. I had the lights off to make sure that no one could see through the blinds and as I sat in a folding chair, the costume warmed up a bit and I got all nice and toasty. The rehearsal dragged on and on and I would drift off until my head bobbed and then I’d wake up and listen frantically to make sure I hadn’t missed my cue.
Holly’s kids range from pre-k to 3rd grade and it’s a challenge to keep them focused for the usual 30 minute rehearsal. Deb had gone for more than 45 minutes and things were almost out of control. Holly came back to ensure me that I would make my appearance soon and I gave her some ideas of how to wrap things up. She valiantly tried to keep order and bring the rehearsal to a close, but this was Deb’s rehearsal and there was little she could do. I was dying in the back hoping that it would end it soon.
There was a lot of noise going on and unbeknownst to me, Deb asked Holly to keep the kids occupied while she talked with the parents. Holly got all the kids to sit back down since they were all over the church like ants at a picnic. Once they were reassembled, Bill, the pianist, started playing “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”. Holly got the kids to start singing and I took this as my cue. I didn’t know that Deb was trying to speak to the parents and even if I had, I didn’t care. Her rehearsal had tanked and the kids were ready to get out of there 30 minutes ago.
I’m Ready For My Close up Mr. Demille
I poked my head out from the Brides Room and seeing no children, I walked to the doors leading into the Church. My adrenaline was surging through veins like a raging river. I was almost shaking with anticipation. I had no idea what I was going to do, or what I was going to say, but I couldn’t wait to jump into the maelstrom of improvising Santa. At that moment, I was Santa and I was here to save the children from this long rehearsal.
As the kids finished the chorus, “… you better not pout I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to towwwwwwn.” I marched into the Church and yelled in my deepest voice, “Did someone call my name? Ho ho ho, Merrrrrrry Christmas!” The room felt like someone had just fired a gun. All of the energy in the room immediately sucked in towards the kids like some huge gasp. As I looked down the aisle, I could see that all the kids were in shock. There eyes were wide and their mouths agape. It felt like they were vibrating and the vibrations where just getting stronger the longer they went without speaking. This must be what an implosion must feel like.
Bill was continuing to play the song and Holly was still singing as I made my way down the rows to pews to the front of the church. Only adults were singing by the end because all of the children were fixed on me. As I stood there in front of them, I felt like I was blind. With all that attention and energy focused on me, it was like staring at the sun. The music had stopped and everyone was looking at me to see what I would do next. Those kids were the brightest spotlight I’ve ever been under and it was time to deliver.
“Are y’all ready for Christmas?” There was a yes, that was uttered, but it wasn’t all that loud and not everyone said it. I put my hand to my ear and tilted my head in a loud, but slow manner said “I can’t hear you…” That was the spark that lit the fuse and all the kids screamed “YES!!!” in one huge explosion. I hollered, “Then let’s go!” as I motioned the children to follow me and began marching out the Church. Bill began playing “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” again and I could hear Holly asking the kids to get in a line, but I could just picture her standing waist deep in a flood of children as they rushed away from the altar.
In The Eye Of The Storm
I couldn’t see behind me, so I had no idea if the kids were with me or not, but as I took my seat, I looked up and my entire field of vision was filled with tiny smiling faces. They were standing right up against my legs with not an inch of wasted space. Holly finally made it close to me and began trying to get the kids lined up. She had treat bags for all the kids and the plan was to have a child sit on my lap, take a picture and then get the treats.
Suddenly I was struck mute as I stood there staring at this sea of children. They were all on their best behavior, but they couldn’t wait to come tell me what they wanted for Christmas. The only thing I could think of saying was “Who’s first?” There was no answer, no one wanted to be selfish; or they were nervous; or as thunderstruck as I was, I don’t know, but I reached down and picked up one a child and set her on my lap. I looked at her and asked “So what do you want for Christmas?”
I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, or any of the children as they told me what they wanted. I was thoroughly transfixed on their faces as they told me all the magical gifts that would make their lives complete. I know it’s a well worn saying that children are precious, but oh my stars is that saying true. Each child was a precious gem, each one unique in it’s own splendor. Some were nervous, some were just happy. Some kids forgot what they wanted, some had long lists that came out in rapid fire like a snare drum. Some parents would come up and ask me what the child said to confirm that was was hidden in a closet was indeed what their child wanted. One child couldn’t remember what he wanted, so he repeated what the little boy in front of him had said, “A robot dog and a basketball.” At that point I realized that the kids might notice that I was saying the same stuff, so I tried to vary it up a little bit. I would ask them their names, or if they have been good all year, or if they’ve sent me their letter yet. This opened up whole new vistas of emotions.
Heart Wrenching Moments
When I asked one boy if he had been good all year, I could visibly see the guilt rush up into his face as he stammered to say “yes?” Talk about shatter your heart! I instantly said “According to my list, you’ve been a very good boy.”, which instantly swept away all the guilt and replaced it with relief. I offered a few words of encouragement that everything was going to be ok and he left my knee with a big grin on his face.
One child that I know a little bit about sat on my knee and was too shy to really say anything. When I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, all I could get was a “I don’t know.” I felt like she was too shy to say what she really wanted. Maybe it was to have her Mom and Dad get back together, or something of that nature. I don’t know her whole story, but there was something she wanted, but was too shy, or embarrassed to ask.
Holly interrupted us for a quick picture and as we turned to face the camera and pose, I said “That is such a pretty dress. You are a beautiful girl.” After the picture was taken, I leaned in close to her and whispered, “I tell you what, why don’t you write me a note about what you want for Christmas and I’ll see what I can do.” She looked at me with kind of a questioning look. Her entire face read “Really?” I said, “You are a very good girl and I’m so glad you came to see me. I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.” I don’t know if anything I said helped, but she seemed a little bit happier than I’ve seen her recently. Later, when we were leaving the church and I was back into street clothes, I could see her just beaming with smiles. She didn’t see me looking at her and she wasn’t really looking at anyone in particular – she was just smiling.
One of the sweetest and most tender moments came when a little boy named Nick came and sat on my knee. Holly says that she’s nicknamed him St. Nick because he is so sweet and I can see why. He told me that he wanted a basketball, a talking T-Rex and a new dog. I asked, “A new dog?” before I thought about what I was asking. I waited, cringing in anticipation of his response. He said, “A robot dog!” I was relieved to hear that there wasn’t an old dog as he proceeded to tell me all about the robot dog he wanted.
When he was done, he took my hand and put a folded piece of paper in it. I looked at the paper and then at Nick. “Is this for me?” I asked. Nick said that it was and that I had to open it now. I fumbled with it since I had gloves on and asked Nick if he would open it for me. He opened it and handed it back to me. In printed letters it read,
Have a Merry Christmas”
There was a snowman underneath the writing and then cascading down to the bottom right corner were the words “I Love You, Nick”. It was the most precious thing I’ve ever seen. I asked him if he wanted me to keep it, or if he wanted to mail it to me. There was this sudden realization that he had forgotten to write what he wanted for Christmas on it and he replied, “I’m going to mail it to you. I need to write what I want on it.” I breathed a sigh of relief because I don’t know that I could have kept it together if he had let me keep the note. I already had a knot in my throat.
I could go on for days about what all the children did or said, but I’m going on long enough as it is. Here’s just a couple of other gems that stand out in my mind after I asked, “What do you want for Christmas?”
“Gifts for all the children in the world.”
“A drum set!”
“Lots of presents for my mommy and daddy.”
Eventually, most of the 40 kids had their turn at sitting on Santa’s knee. Some where too shy and kept their distance, so I just waved at them before they turned and buried their face in their parents leg. At every turn there was a new surprise, or something unexpected. I found the entire spectacle completely fascinating. Those children are beyond description.
One of the things that most surprised me is that none of the kids called my bluff. I had nightmare fantasies that some would say they didn’t believe in Santa anymore, or that they knew I was “Miss Holly’s husband”, but none of them did. I knew my disguise was complete, when one of the more mature children, who cut me little or no slack came to sit on my knee. Elizabeth is not shy around me and holds nothing back if she has an opinion. She’s an adorable child, but she’s smart too and she loves to give me a little attitude. As I picked he up to place on my knee, she was clearly shy and almost coquettish and appeared to even blush. She had no idea it was me. Joy!
When there were only a handful of children and parents left and everyone had had their turn, I stood up and announced that it was time for Santa to head back to the North Pole. One child ran up and asked “Would you give Rudolph a hug for me?” I of course said yes and she proceeded to rush up and give me a big hug on my legs. I waved good bye and when the moment was right, ducked back into the Bride’s Room.
As I packed up my suit, reality started to set back in. I had been in a dizzying alternate reality and was not aware of some things. For one, I was drenched in sweat. I never knew that I was hot and yet, my clothes and costume were soaking wet. The other thing that surprised me was that over half an hour had passed. I made my appearance at 7:20pm and it was now 7:50pm. In my mind, the whole thing was over in 5 minutes. The time just flew.
Once everything was packed up in non-nondescript bags and suit carriers and I was back in my regular clothes, we hot footed it out of the church and to the car. Very few kids were still around, but of those that were there, none appeared to make the connection that I had been Santa. The secret was safe and I was now invisible to the kids.
Living In The Wake Of The Experience
This experience has totally changed me and my thoughts about Christmas. I’m not kidding, I’m never going to be the same. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve started crying as I typed out this entry. Call me sappy, or a cliche, I don’t care. You don’t know what it’s like to sit in that chair and be the recipient of all that love and attention. My heart was not prepared for that onslaught. Who knew that children were filled with such powerful, unfiltered and pure emotion. I couldn’t take it all in then and I still can’t right now. Sure those kids want presents and that may be what’s at the core of it all, but those kids love and adore Santa. They do, they adore him. I never knew the definition of the word until I had 40 kids give it to me with both barrels and no filters, or conditions placed upon it.
I am so not worthy of this attention. Heck no human being is, but I am so thankful that I was blessed with this experience. I feel a bit like the Grinch after he here’s the Hoo children singing. I forgot what Christmas was about from the eyes of children, but now I can see. I see what Christmas is like through the eyes of a child and it’s beautiful.
I can’t wait to play Santa again.
Note: You can find a few photos from the event at this link.