Due to some unforeseen circumstances I recently had the extreme pleasure of playing “Santa” for a group of kids at a Christmas party. Like any self-respecting adult, my first thought was “I’d rather stick needles in my eye.” Those who believe in karma should have no trouble piecing together what kind of person I must have been in a past life to deserve such an honour. However, the alternative was to have no Santa at all and I wasn’t about to be the one to deny a group of children their moment with a fat elf with a sugar addiction making promises he couldn’t keep – and so I said yes.
As the big day approached I found myself surprisingly nervous – what if I blew it? What if this was some poor child’s last gasp at believing in Santa, their last glimpse of an innocent world before life hits them in the face. That’s how it works – One day you believe in Santa and the next day you believe in 17 glasses of rum and eggnog, trying to forget the pain of your credit card statement piled on top of your mortgage payment coming January 1st. There is no way that some innocent little gaffer was going to enter this cruel adult world early because of a bad Santa – not on my watch! I needed to study up.
The great internet has unimaginable amounts of knowledge. You can watch a YouTube video of how to perform open heart surgery if you like. Want to bake a gluten free vegan carrot cake? No problem, watch this! Fix the brakes on the car? We got you covered. However, there is very little information on how to be a “good” Santa. My suspicion is that the trauma leaves one unable to objectify what makes a “good” performance – it’s probably hard to make a how-to video while curled up in the fetal position in a padded room. I would have to make this up as I went along.
My wife is usually a good source of rational and sound decisions (something I am unfortunately not known for) so I decided to bounce some Santa performance ideas off of her first. I am not sure where she got her idea of support for my ventures, but her vehement “NO, JUST NO” when I started with my best “Yo Mama” jokes kind of took me by surprise. She wasn’t supportive in the slightest. To be fair it’s been awhile since our kids were in kindergarten, but am I to believe that children today have no sense of humour? How can a joke about a kid’s mother not win the little tyke over? I needed another angle.
As show time approached I still did not know what I was really doing. Should I ask their age? Maybe their name? Sounded reasonable but wasn’t Santa supposed to know that stuff already? I can ask what they want for Christmas but again, shouldn’t a creepy elf that is always watching you, even when you’re sleeping, know what your wish list contains? Maybe play stupid and just say that I couldn’t memorize every kid? What if they start asking questions though? Santa’s supposed to be magic and kids today are pretty savvy – I don’t want to feel like I’m being interrogated by the FBI. I tried to draw on my own childhood memories to remember what it was like to meet Santa but making myself smell like stale beer and smokes didn’t seem like a good idea; Santa was different in the 70s. Playing stupid was quickly becoming my only option – and it wasn’t really going to be playing.
In order to be organized, I wanted to get into the costume early in case things didn’t go as planned. This was a great idea except the suit went on exactly as it should – leaving me with a half an hour to kill before Santa was due to arrive. “Just wait here, we will knock on the door when we are ready” I was told by one of the organizers – which meant I was stuck sitting on a cardboard box in the attic with a pillow duct taped to my body and a giant itchy beard covering my face. This was undoubtedly the longest half hour of my life and I fully suspected that this was how it would end for me; I would be forgotten up here and my body would not be found until the smell wafted out of the air ducts next summer:
“Mom, what’s that smell?”
“I don’t know sweetie, it kinda smells like the dumpster behind a fishmart except with a hint of candy cane”
Finally I heard the knock on the door and in panic I started thinking of “yo mama” jokes again. It’s Showtime. As I walked out into the crowd of cheering children I had to do my best not to raise my hands in the air like The Macho Man Randy Savage entering a WWE ring – the fans were that adoring. I briefly thought that a Macho Man impersonation might be an awesome angle for this Santa to take: “HO HO HO, Intercontinental Champiiion, Ohhh YEEEAHHH” – nope, better stick with more traditional. I don’t think today’s children would pick up on how masterful an impersonation it would be and there is nothing worse than unrecognized talent. Back to the Ho Hos.
As the parade of little petri dishes come, wide eyed and open mouthed, they were able to sit still for a moment to allow their parents to snap a photo before telling me what they wanted for Christmas. Some of them were very chatty and couldn’t stop telling me about their entire year, proudly proclaiming how good they had been before telling me what they wanted. Judging from the warning glances from some of the parents, I was to be careful not to promise anything – although that went against my very core as a sarcasm dealer:
Child: “I want a pony!”
Me (outside voice): “Real ponies are afraid to fly in Santa’s sleigh but I will see what I can do”
Me (inside voice): “Just one?!? Tell your mom that Santa promised you TWELVE ponies!!”
With little exception everyone had a great time and no one seemed to notice that Santa really had no idea what he was doing. One tiny baby girl who had been enjoying her first Christmas up to this point was traumatized by the premise of a weird creepy guy with too much facial hair, but she was too little to ask for a present anyway; I only hope her parents can afford her the therapy she’s going to need. The older kids however had no problem running away from their parents to hang out with a stranger offering candy and gifts. I kept waiting for one of the kids to test me (“can you name all of the reindeer?”) but not one did. It’s too bad since I was ready: On Dander, on Dancer, on Blitzkrieg and Vixen, now Lancer, now Sleepy, now Dopey and on foggy nights that freak one with a glow-stick for a nose. I guess I studied for nothing.