When I was a little boy I thought (as many little boys do) that my Dad had the greatest job in the world. He was the sergeant of police for a little town in West Virginia called Nitro. My Dad would drive down our street and would turn on the sirens for my friends and I who ran out to wave at him as he passed - such an Opie-like thing to do. But at Christmas my Dad had a very important job to perform. He was the chauffer of an international celebrity. When things were calm in Nitro my Dad would drive Santa Claus all over town to visit as many as 30 families an evening. At the end of the evening it never failed that Santa Claus would stop at our house to rest before Dad would drive him to a little field outside of town where he had landed the sleigh and tied the reindeer.
Of course, I now know Santa was none other than Santa Claus Hall of Famer Jay Long. As I look back I can only imagine that he was hot and uncomfortable. But Jay (MY Santa to this day) would sit in the floor of my living room with me and play with my toys and talk with me. He would laugh and have fun with me just as if I was the first child of those 30 visits. He always seemed just as happy to see me as I was to see him. Despite the discomfort and heat, despite the family that was waiting for him at home, and despite not having his dinner Santa Claus took time to play with a little boy and truly give him a memory that sticks with him to this present day. I have learned quite a lot from Jay. He is my number 1 mentor. But that scene goes with me everywhere. I learned from Santa what it truly means to give of yourself to a child who believes. And that is what I strive to do.
As I look back on those visits I am reminded of the thousands of men (and women) who have visited so many little boys and girls in towns across this whole wide world. I think of how they went out, often in the snow and cold, to see each child. I think of the discomfort, the warm houses and even warmer suits. I think of how they missed meals and their own Christmas festivities with their families. I wonder why they did it. Then I realize that it was for that smile of a child. I realize that they sacrificed for that one precious thing. A child's hopes and dreams meant something. You know what? They still do. More than silver, gold, sacrifice, or anything else you can imagine.
Many of these folks we will never know. Each had a life, dreams, hopes, and beliefs as all people do. Because of fate, they will remain nameless citizens of the past who, outside the red suit, are lost to time save for being Santa to a child one Christmas long ago. Their face might be recalled as someone finds an old picture album or something of the sort and they are pointed out. Perhaps a department store archive holds their names and old addresses. But to the world at large they are Santa and Santa alone. But they were linked in their belief of making glad the heart of childhood. They truly were servants of childhood.
I guess I am a horse and buggy in a jet age. I am truly sorry, but the more I strive to be a simple "Hometown Santa" I find that I am not up to the standards of the "new generation." I could care less about being a year-round Santa millionaire and star. Santa isn't the star of Christmas, never has been. He is a herald to the Reason. But not the way it is seen today. It seems to me that folks are too busy getting all of the bells and whistles without the propulsion system that drives a Santa Claus. Why, in a recent search and examination of websites belonging to Santas I found more posts about a beard than I did about how important it is to the Santa to bring joy to a child. Real or not, with a good picture on the page and public knowledge of what he looks like, Santa doesn't have to advertise that he has a beard. That is vanity. While viewing a video posted I read the title was something like "Thanks from Santa." It saddened me that the word "children" was never really mentioned - it was a pitch for more and bigger business along with a five minute speech on where he had performed. I read posts both for and against children seeing multiple Santas in one place. I hear "I, I, I," and "Me, Me, Me." "I am Santa here." "They should hire ME for that instead of the Santa they have." Product after product touts that "I am the REAL Santa." Social media has created a monster in that all of these things are celebrated in group after group. Read some of the daily posts. Folks are too busy worrying about the physical appearance and about getting the other Santa's gig. Instant stardom is the unachieved fashion of the community. Not sure why, as everyone seems to truly be an expert. Education in any field is a good thing. But every teacher SHOULD NOT have his or her own school! I find it all so EGO centered and so contrary to the pattern set down by not only those Santas who have gone before but also St. Nicholas. Would he even recognize us as carrying on his legacy? In my studies of his character and life I have to logically conclude that he would not. If we have departed that much from the model, then I am saddened and afraid for what the future holds!
In all of this nonsense, we are forgetting what it means to be a Santa. We are forgetting the belief and standard that was given to us - the joy of giving of one's self and the bringing of magic and wonder to children. Not to mention the spreading of the Message of Christmas. We need to stop and reevaluate this thing. I am afraid that the iceberg is ahead. I am trying to post a picture with this blog of a Santa and children from a New Orleans department store circa 1955. Look at the faces of the children, particularly the eyes. Trust and full belief. Then look at Santa. There is a sense of duty and compassion, wrapped in love. Please, evaluate why you put on that suit. Are you in it for the paycheck or fame? Or are you in it to serve? Now more than ever, these little ones need a role model to look up to. It is time that we stop all of the foolish fads and ego trips and get to work!
I usually wait quite a while before posting to my blog. But this subject is one that I find myself constantly thinking of these days and I feel that it is important to get my thoughts across. If they can be a provoker of thought, then please read on. I hope you leave this entry with a deeper perspective and appreciation for the subject matter.
Since the days when a man named Nicholas of Myra walked upon this Earth there has existed a sacred nature to the role of Santa Claus. That bond has been the bedrock foundation for not only the connection of Santa Claus to Christmas but also to the hearts and imaginations of children. You see, children share with Santa Claus their faith, hope, and trust wrapped up in their innermost wishes and needs. To some children, Santa represents someone who loves them and will never judge them. To some he might be the only ear that listens to them. The Santa/child bond is a precious one. Santa is not a childhood celebrity. In fact, he is a childhood servant.
Saint Nicholas had a very special bond that brought out the very best in him - a relationship with Jesus Christ. He understood the importance of the Gift that God had freely given and of what it means to be connected with that Gift. Like it or not, that bond is a part of the Santa of today as well. We cannot ignore the significance of the past. Perhaps this message does not enter in to your mind or portrayal as Santa. I use it to illustrate the roots of the character. Saint Nicholas, out of faith, sowed seeds of faith in everything he did. When we decide to take up his mantle, we declare that we are going to do the same. We agree to portray this man in a manner that respects the bond that he created, likewise sowing the seeds that he sowed of faith and hope. With his fully anonymous gift giving, Saint Nicholas truly set a standard that we need to return to today.
For 170 plus years the anonymity of the man in the red suit was preserved, becoming a standard. Over the past few decades many have come to the role that have precipitated a shift in the focus of the role. Other priorities, agendas, and philosophies have been brought in to suggest that Santa is an amalgamation of many different things. These have touted him as a mythical creation, even though historical fact proves otherwise. He is declared secular and is further distorted in image and meaning. But none of those who think this way can dispute the bond that Santa has with children, no matter how hard they try. It is emotional, it is spiritual, and thus it is sacred. It is an echo to the true vine of Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker.
Now, I ask you, why would anyone wish to tarnish this beloved figure? Why would anyone dare to desecrate something so sacred to the hearts of children? Has it become a trend? What causes this? Money? Fame? Greed? It is all these things and a lot more. Perhaps in some ways we, the portrayers, have brought it on by making it more than a calling and simple vocation. It is not wrong to make money on Santa as a worker is worthy of his hire. But the motives behind the thing are, in the words of Shakespeare, the rub. Though we are merely actors portraying the part, we each are entrusted with the preserving of that sacred nature. When you look like Santa, when you purposely go out of your way to draw attention to that fact, you are doubly so!
As an actor, I have learned many things that have helped me to be Santa. One important lesson is that when the curtain comes down you must return to yourself. Put the character aside and be yourself. It becomes terribly troublesome to maintain a character when you are not required to perform. Charles W. Howard, our legendary educational leader, made a full distinction between self and Santa. As did Jim Yellig, who when not in the suit maintained a post as commander of the American Legion and was a tavern owner. Look at the man who spends more days in the suit than any other man living that portrays Santa Claus, Phil Wenz - he completely separates the hustle and bustle of Santa's Village to be just himself. Take off the costume (both inner and outer) until the next performance. Actors have suffered terrible mental illness for not allowing themselves to do this. That said, I have never played a part that didn't leave something with me. In portraying a character like Santa you don't have to maintain the role 24/7/365 to be enriched. I have learned that you don't need to look the part and dress the part all the time to BE Santa. To be Santa you need to give! And I think that that again speaks to the sacred nature of Santa - he continues to instruct.
Over the past many years we have seen quite a bit in our Santa community. The fact that we can still come together as a brotherhood and sisterhood is a testament to the sacred nature of Santa Claus. Would some of the things that have happened never have happened had some taken off the suit? That is for you to ponder and decide. I am in no way degrading anyone for the choices they make. But I am asking you to consider being yourself. When you make an opinion or an action that is not Santa like while you are clearly identifying yourself as Santa Claus, then you must be ready to deal with it. The eyes of children of all ages are ever upon you, as are those of the brotherhood that you represent. We all are looking at you to be your best while carrying the image of Santa Claus. But remember, an officer that wears his badge is on duty. When off duty he takes it off and goes about his life. Santa should be the same way. In both ways, the role is preserved and respected. Both have a sacred duty.
With this said, I want to encourage everyone to really think about the calling and vocation of Santa Claus. Think about your place in it. There are children that identify you as this iconic figure of Santa Claus. They share their innermost selves with you. Perhaps they see you outside of the Season in your red shirt and white beard. They immediately recognize you as you as their Santa (yes, you belong to them now). They don't know you as you, they only know Santa. You have made a sacred bond. You have become a memory that can bring joy or hurt. What will your next action bring? I hope that you will ponder this and truly will make a stand for keeping this bond of Santa Claus with the children sacred.
Food For thought. Think of what Phil always says. "There is no I or E,G, or O in the word Santa Claus. There is no room for I or EGO in Santa Claus. But there is an US, and it takes all of us to make Santa Claus."
One hundred years from now, it will not matter....
What kind of beard you had, designer or real...
What kind of suit you wore, velvet or wool...
How much money you charged or if you charged at all....
Nor the events you appeared..
Or what group you belonged....
What matters is ...
That you played Santa with honesty and integrity.....
You shared with your peers to help foster fellowship..
Your conduct exhibited was worthy of Santa...
But most importantly what matters....
Knowing that you are blessed to have the opportunity....
to make the world be a little brighter and better because....
As Santa, you were important in the life of a child.
Poem Copyrighted Santa Claus Oath Foundation
One day, through events that are unique and special to you, you decided to become a Santa Claus. Maybe the mantle was passed to you or maybe you just wanted to try on the suit and the idea stuck. Maybe you were a middle aged man of girth with a beard whom neighborhood children pointed at with a certain familiarity. If you were like me, you were asked as a child to perform the role in a Christmas pageant and it stuck with you. In many ways the suit can call. Because you are here it is a good assumption that you answered.
So, you have a suit and a beard of either natural or synthetic design. You belong to a group or two of Santas and maybe you work at a Mall. Perhaps you have been to one of the schools. That is all very good. But it doesn't stop there. What is it that is going to truly transform you into the character of Santa? My friend, the answer might come to you as a surprise. You must prepare.
Easily said, but how does a Santa prepare? Just like with any role that an actor might play (you do realize that because you put on the suit does not mean that you become the true and real article), to go out onto the stage or before the camera without preparation is deadly. A Santa must never go out for his annual rounds without truly preparing. You see, every character needs to be built, nurtured, and developed. This is doubly true with Santa Claus, as there are certain standards that you will be held to by the general public - particularly the children. It is more than a role. It is a matter of childhood hope and trust!
Below are three things that you can do to create a memorable and effective portrayal:
1. Read! Read! Read! - So your wife may think that you are crazy for going to the library at odd times of the year to check out books on Christmas. Big deal! As Santa Claus you are going to need to know what the popular and historic image of every aspect of Christmas and Santa are. It is folly to think that a school that lasts anywhere from a few days to maybe a week is going to teach you all there is to know. Do your research! Create a finger friendly archive for yourself where, if you can't recall an answer to a tough question that a child might ask, you can find it. Read to understand the history and meanings of Christmas and Saint Nicholas. Soak it all in. You are embarking on a mission that has been shared by jolly men for over 1700 years (1000s more depending on your source). Know the accepted and expected facts of the role.
2. Know who you are! - Every actor will usually develop a back story to a character. That story will tell everything from where the character grew up to what kind of bubble gum he likes to chew and more. Lucky for you, Santa has a full back story developed. How do your ideas about Santa match up? Better work this out before the kids work you over about the facts.
3. Brotherhood - That we know, Saint Nicholas had no familial brothers and sisters. That is established history. But the Santa Claus of today sure has. Every man that puts on the suit is now your brother, or sister depending on circumstance. Talk to them, ask them questions, and generally support them as they will be a great support to you. Remember, what you do in the suit reflects on them and vice versa. Behave yourself and realize that we are all in this together.
4. Walk a mile - The old statement says in order to know a man you must walk a mile in his shoes. Do you have to become a toymaker or even a Christian Bishop? No, no. But you do need to know how to give and talk to children. If you really want to learn these valuable skills then take part in a local children's charity or benevolent work. Volunteer! Give of yourself! After all, the greatest and truly the only gift that you will ever give while in the red suit is of yourself. Volunteer, and bring joy and smiles all year long. You will begin to feel like Santa.
5. Christmas Spirit. A Santa who does not know what Christmas is all about is a neglected Santa. I cannot stress enough the need to understand that the Christmas Spirit is not a feeling, but is a Person. The joys, hopes, and miracles of Christmas begin and end with Him - that Baby born in Bethlehem. Not preaching, but know who Jesus Christ is and understand His significance. After all, they named the holiday after Him!
Why do all of these things? Well, it is very simple. To build a house you need a foundation. In the same way, to build a character you need a foundation. Take great care in building a strong one, a good one. You will soon learn as you visit the children that you will constantly draw encouragement and strength from your foundation. So, be sure to make it a firm one and be sure to cling to the authentic, historically proven, kid tested model of what a Santa Claus should be.
In closing, a word of warning. As you grow in the character and community of Santa Claus sometimes it is easy to become careless with the responsibilities connected to the role. You might begin to think that you are the center of it all. You might begin to covet your brother's opportunities and begin to think that you are better than the rest. You might forget yourself and begin to say and do things that are against the image you have worked so hard to create. Remember, an over-developed ego does not a good Santa make. If you see this happening then take a moment and self examine. Fill that crack in the foundation with solid material made of love and wisdom. Remember, you are a servant. Remember, as you serve the children in a pure and loving way (as Santa should) that good will be given to you. You will be surprised at where you might go as long as you remain the Santa that you should be - a solidly built, authentic replica of the Santa of legend. An authentic Santa, the Santa of our childhood, is one that will be cherished.
It has been quite a while since I have written about anything regarding Santa Claus for our community. That I am going to try to remedy with this article that I hope will be found to be light hearted, yet thought provoking. This is to be the first of many of these types of items that I am going to tentatively title “Mistletoe Musings.” In many groups such as ours (whether historical, theatrical, or literary) there are those who seek higher learning and understanding of what the subject is about. I feel it should be no different in the study of Santa Claus. To get the clear picture of whom he is and what he represents only benefits the portrayals of each of us. He is more than a doddering old man or town drunk as depicted in popular interpretation. Santa is something more. I hope you will enjoy pondering these ideas, and by doing so may we grow closer as a community as we endeavor to portray our beloved Santa.
The Rudolph Question
Every Santa Season we are asked about that one particular reindeer who’s known as the “most famous reindeer of all.” Everyone knows the other eight. But they are dismissed when it comes to that one little fellow with the glowing red nose – Rudolph. Thanks to a popular song by Johnny Marks, an RKO cartoon, and several Rankin Bass Christmas specials he has become as inseparable to Santa as the Jolly Old Elf’s big black boots. Rudolph is a part of the Christmas canon now, and there seems that there is no child worldwide that doesn’t know his name and story.
Rudolph was born in the mind of Robert L. May way back in 1939. May’s poem was used as an advertising blitz by Montgomery Wards – or “Monkey Wards” as they were popularly called. And the original story is very different than that of the little reindeer and his elven friend and dentist who travels to the Island of Misfit Toys. Copies are still readily available, and I suggest if you haven’t read it that you do. Rudolph and his story have been everywhere, even to the Hit Parade by both Gene Autry and Burl Ives respectfully. His has become one of the most recorded Christmas songs in history. Since Christmas 1939, Rudolph has been a part of every child’s visions of the Christmas Eve flight. Even at the age of 74, Rudolph still leads Santa’s team across the sky and into the hearts of children of all ages.
I have often pondered the role of Santa’s partner in relation to other companions he has in various incarnations across the globe. He is definitely less threatening than Krampus – the devil like figure of many Alpine countries who accompanies St. Nicholas and takes care of the naughty children. He is definitely cleaner than Schmutzli – the helper of Samischlaus in eastern Europe who not only carries the sack of goodies but also makes sure the chimneys are clean and children are behaved. He is much less controversial than Zwarte Piet or “Pete” – Sinterklaas’ helper in the Netherlands who assists him attired in black face paint and colorful clothes and has become a sign of racial prejudice. No, Rudolph’s presence is both practical and benevolent. Not only does he teach that differences are to be celebrated, but that everyone’s talents, no matter what they are, are relevant. Rudolph proves that being different is being great – a lesson that children of all ages can use.
While in the chair this past Christmas I was asked all about Rudolph by one little fellow who was eager to learn. I, of course, explained that Rudolph is doing very well and he does remain very active on foggy and inclement Christmas Eves. The youngster was very happy to hear that. Jokingly, I also said that he has become quite a snob thanks to the song and movies about him. I furthered the story by explaining that the elves can’t even get his autograph these days. The little fellow laughed. But I reassured them that Santa still loves him and all the other reindeer love him too. When asked how old the reindeer was I responded that this would be his 74th Christmas flight. The little fellow’s eyes grew large and he ran to tell his parents in his excitement. I am sure Rudolph would approve of this telling of his story.
Rudolph’s story and character hold something for everyone and are equally loved. So, remember to tell the little ones you meet about that dear of a deer and what he means to old Santa. His story is one that is inspiring and should be told. And when you are asked about your favorite cookie, be sure to remind the little ones to think of the reindeer. Rudolph loves an extra carrot – it helps his battery charge so his nose will glow even brighter through the Christmases to come!
It's funny, but I can still remember the first time I ever put on a beard to perform as Santa Claus. I was six at the time and my very first beard was made of cotton balls glued to a back made from a white t-shirt. Mom made a whole suit and beard for my first grade pageant. The beard had a large rubber band that, when put on, pulled the beard tight under my nose. I remember that feeling of a tickle under my nose as plain today as when I first put it on, along with the smell of the cotton.
I then graduated into a series of inexpensive beards going from a mohair "Moses" Church pageant wig and beard to a curly "fishing twine" beard to a synthetic, nearly waist length number. They all had a difference in how they were worn and how they felt. All of them had attached mustaches that absolutely drove me crazy, until I learned to use Spirit Gum. But the discomfort and a need for realism eventually caused me to grow my own beard, never knowing that better materials were even in existence. Had I known about the various yak and human hair materials and styles back then I probably never would have grown out my beard and my wife would have enjoyed the last ten years of our marriage. But I am digressing.
Last Saturday marked my first Santa appearance for 2013. I was asked to visit a family at our local hospice house, where a grandfather who was unable to celebrate Christmas with his grandkids was finally able to see them and celebrate. Due to advanced cancer he knew it would be his last. He wanted Santa there to just see their eyes light up one last time.
When I originally received the call I was hesitant to do it. I had shaved, remember, and my new custom beard (I ordered from Custom Wig Company) would not be ready until March. True, I had the old synthetic and an old yak set that I had accumulated along the way. But I was so afraid that I would not be able to do it without that "perfect" look. With great reluctancy (of which I am now ashamed to have had), I finally told them I would be there.
Which beard to wear? The old synthetic beard looked a fright, and I felt like they would think me more a Jerry Garcia impersonator than a Santa. (Funny, I didn't think that when I used to wear it. Guess I have matured a bit.) So my choice was the yak set. I didn't have time to wash and style as I have read here on Clausnet, so I curled as best I could and just fluffed and hairsprayed. Though the wired mustache was a bit tricky to form I stood back and looked at myself. I saw Santa, and my hope was that the family that I was about to visit would too.
You know what? They did. I entered the room to smiles and flashing cameras. I hugged some of the adults and shook the hands of the little ones who were a bit timid and awe struck. I kidded the grandfather about the "little red wagon I brought him when he was 5." With a smile across his weak cheeks, he told me he still had it which his grandchildren could not believe. After a few more pictures and a few moments of explaining to the children that "Christmas can be any day as long as you keep it in your heart" I departed. On the way out I told them that they would be in Santa's prayers, and they have been. Only a twenty minute visit, but priceless for that family who needed it.
I saw something I have seen many many times over all these years - the smile of a child. But for some reason it was more prevalent. You see, I went in feeling inferior for lack of what was on my face. However, what made me decide to do it at all was the feeling in my heart that said "Do this." You see, my love for and duty to children in need of joy won out. My heart won the day because as Santa - just Santa - was able to touch their hearts. That was and is what it's all about. I have said a hundred times (and have heard others say hundreds of times) that it is not what is on your chin but what is in your heart that makes a Santa. I have shaved to truly recapture that for myself and to keep that thrill of the visit alive for the children I visit. With that visit and the realization of this cherished fact of our community, along with my coming back around after all these years to a traditional beard, I have indeed recaptured the essence of the whole thing. It is a lesson I always knew but needed again. With the old familiar feeling of a tickle under my nose I have really practiced that lesson and found its truth locked inside. Love plain and simple, not girth or hair, indeed make Santa Claus real.
Several months ago I had a conversation with my wife that had become pretty intense. "Just once," she said, "I would like to have dinner with John and not Santa." Between her words and so many eye opening events and lessons throughout 2012 I learned that not only did I want to do more in my life in other areas that perhaps I had neglected, but I also learned and felt how important it is to maintain and keep the magic of Santa sacred and somewhat secret.
Now, based on the response of my last blog entry where I announced my intentions I came away with the feeling that folks believed that if I shaved I would no longer be Santa. That is the farthest thing from the truth. In fact, for me it goes towards the opposite. I shave so I can be a better Santa. As someone who is active int he community and who gives back to it, I can give and do things as both Santa and myself. And if I would ever (not planning to) slip up then Santa doesn't get tarnished. I am free to do things even as Santa discreetly as was St. Nicholas' original design.
Still, in a world where Santas are seen everywhere all the time (and not just in December) I personally feel that we do an injustice to children and to the magic of Christmas by mere overkill. In my community I have been given the honor of being the Town Santa. Well, as such I want to make it as special as I can for the children. I don't want them to see me everyday and then turn around and say mundanly "Oh, that's just Santa" at Christmas because seeing Santa isn't special. I want them to have the magical visits that I remember having. My mentor, Jay Long, never grew a beard. None of us need one, truly, because if we are truly Santa then the whiskers do not matter. What matters is the heart behind it. I have a lot of heart to give to this community, both Santa and my home one. Most importantly I gave a gift to my wife.
Last weekend I had an appointment with the stylist. As I have been cast as the Duke of Clarence for a production of Richard III by Shakespeare I am now sporting my natural color of hair and a matching goatee and mustache. The beard is gone and I actually feel much better about the anonymity for this Santa Claus. As an actor, musician, minister and public volunteer I know and have already experienced doors opening. As for Santa, the doors are open and all of my clients from the past year are positive about the transition. My heart is in the right place and they all know it.
New Years Eve was a special evening for my wife and I. As we sat at dinner I looked into her eyes and reminded her about what she had said those months ago. "Here is your chance," I teased her. We smiled at one another and enjoyed the changing of the year together.
Never be afraid of change, or a razor. Sometimes the best way to find out how to be better at what you do is by making a change. May we all learn more and spread the magic in our own ways in this new year!
I have been away for a while from ClausNet. For that I am sorry, as I notice that a few of my friends have messaged me here and I have not answered them. Of all the Summers I have had thus far, this has certainly been one of the most interesting. I should say this has been an interesting year, as much of it began for me right after the Jim Yellig Workshop.
You see, I left that event on a very high note. It was a note that I still feel today. Think of it, those who were there really and truly touched history. It is a history that I am proud of and am ever increasingly growing protective of in my own way. I will explain how and why I say that in a few moments. Needless to say, after touching that history and the honor that goes with it I have began questioning certain aspects in my own personal life with Santa and of the Santa community.
Upon my return home I became involved with a discussion of why we do the things we do - especially why we of the real bearded persuasion dress in red all year long. Does it truly benefit the kids was my question. Nearly every Santa I spoke to gave me an "I" statement as opposed to an answer that in my mind showed Santa being used in truly serving children. The conversation was then switched to the possibility of "questionable" behavior from Santas being seen by children. That pretty much started my mind to thinking of ways to preserve and protect Santa rather than exploiting him out of Season.
Then came a role that made me ponder further. Many of you know that I am an actor. In June and early July I starred in a production of David Auburn's "Proof", a Pulitzer prize winning play about a mathematician and his daughters. He dies after a long struggle with mental illness and so the play is about his family coping with the possibility of his youngest daughter having the same tendencies. I played the part of Robert, the mathematician. In rehearsal, my question was constantly "is the audience going to think of Robert or of Santa going crazy?" Strong language was modified by my director who knew my concerns. The color red became cursed for me. I did not want Santa associated with this character. Though I ended up with great press over my portrayal of this tortured character the experience left me with further feeling that for myself I must protect Santa from being the object of defamation.
I have been studying seriously the subject of acting from workshop to workshop all Summer. I have been given various job prospects within the field as well. To be an effective actor you must also know yourself. After all, acting is immitation of life. I have come to another realization, Santa is not John. Rather, John portrays Santa. Why is this important? Because I feel that many of us in this industry look at ourselves as if we are Santa himself rather than as actors portraying a part. The further I have gone into a study of myself I realize that Basil Rathbone and I have alot in common. He always said that Sherlock Holmes tried to take over his life when not put under control. Santa has become the same for my life. By my becoming a 24/7/365 Santa I find that he has stifled me in so many ways including relationships with family and old friends, career, and creatively. I cannot get additional parts onstage due to my outward appearance as Santa. Musically, I am typecast as a holiday act only. People that I know and love are sometimes stand-offish with me after the Season. I never knew that my biggest blessing and source of outreach in my community could also be a burden.
So, after coming this far you might think I am quitting. On the contrary. I am taking my life back for myself and placing Santa where I feel he needs to be - for his protection and for my sanity. Santa is the vehicle by which I spread love and joy, often in a way of secret giving. I often think of Nicholas wrapped in a cloak dropping bags of gold in windows of the needy - which we know he did. I want to use the guise of Santa for that very thing. Also, I am surrounded by two industries that would actually enjoy a Santa that they can get to their specifications. After talking these over with mentors, customers, booking agents, theater folks, and most importantly God and my wife I have come to this decision: I am breaking with modern tradition in order to salvage the historical tradition of Santa - come New Year 2013 I am going to shave my whiskers and take on the search for the best traditional set I can afford. I am going to honor St. Nicholas by using the image for secret giving and good deeds as ever and will continue on as my community's Santa. But the jobs that John can do on his own, John will do without Santa. My prayer is that the Master of St. Nicholas will be seen first and foremost in my life. And if I can use Santa for His glory, I will - as a tool and not as a way of living. I am 34 years old, overweight, and with a history of heart disease in my family. I have to do something about it.
When I look back of Santas like Jim Yellig, James Reilly, Charlie Howard, and even my friend Jay Long - and modern friends like Phil Wenz, Mike Reilly, Dutch Schrap, and others - I see a link to the Santa of James Edgar and others who started the tradition in our country purely going back to the secret giving of St. Nicholas. It is a decision that has taken some thought, but I had to make it. I am insuring that if I say or do something stupid in life, Santa will not be the first thing seen and mocked. He will be in a special place each year.
Friends, I urge everyone to look inside themselves. Is Santa benefitting you or the children? What about in August or May or whatever other month? Is Santa holding you back? Is he more than a part you portray? Sometimes the reality is that we need to wake up from the dream. Don't stop portaying Santa. After 28 Seasons I am not quitting. Rather, we all must put him into perspective. Trim that chin and spend some time out of red. It actually feels pretty darn good sometimes. If we truly believe that we are called to be Santa and that he enters through the heart then these things won't matter. The love is what matters. Red suit or not we all could use that in our lives.
As I sit and ponder this holiday of Christmas and what it means, my mind often returns to the very root of what it is all about - love. I recall that that first Christmas brought the greatest gift of love ever given, the only Son of God who would later die on the cross for the wrongs of all mankind now and forever. I like to think of the love of a mother, Mary, as she wrapped her new born in swaddling clothes. I like to think that she was overfilled with pride as the shepherds came to see her child, and then seeing that pride overfilled and mixed with wonderment as the Magi came with their gifts. Then my mind moves forward about thirty-three years to a time when that same baby, now a man, hung on that cross and died to raise again the third day. No greater love has there ever been nor will there ever be again.
Then, along the same theme of love, I recall a man about three centuries later who loved his fellow man enough to give secretly to take care of their needs. This man suffered persecution in his lifetime for his personal belief and ministry to the cause of that Savior. But he overcame his obstacles by simply giving. What an example of love for all of us was that man, Nicholas.
Today, both events are wrapped each year into one package as Santa Claus delivers gifts to the children of the World each and every Christmas. And why does he do this? Because of love, the same timeless message that started it all.
We in this Santa Claus community, or Christmas Industry, have joined into something that we often do not realize is greater than ourselves. We are the ones who bare the example, ideals, and principles of Santa Claus to the entire World, and even though we only seem to do it for a short time each year we really do it all the time. The children of all ages are our main focus, but there are others that we often forget. They are the ones who do the same thing that we do - the brothers and sisters of the red suit.
You may think that this is not true, but there is too much evidence. When we allow our egos and personal arrogance to get in front of an encouraging word to a brother or sister who might really need it, we are ignoring the very fabric of what it means to be Santa. We are forgetting love which is the very basis for what we do. When you love your fellows it seems that the whole mindset changes. Instead of the thought of someone stealing another's high dollar appearance one can turn it around to being that the children in that area will receive the love from Santa that they deserve. Love, understanding, compassion, and pride in our collective selves is what will make us better Santas - brotherhood.
When I think of the Santa Claus Hall of Fame I see the men and why they are truly deserving of the honor of being there. They were the best Santas they could and can be. Why are they? Because they made it their legacy and did their utmost to share and spread love. They should be inspirations to all of us to do the same. Yes, they did some awesome things in the suit. But when you learn to truly be Santa by learning to first and foremost love others including your brethren, all of the other things will instantly follow along. All the success that a Santa can have is not genuine unless there is true love of others.
As we walk down this road of life, occasionally taking the ol' sleigh for a spin, let us try with our utmost sincerity to just be Santa and to love one another. We are a family after all, and even though a family has ups and downs they come out on top. With love in our minds and hearts, may the Santa family always share the true Spirit of Christmas with both the children of the World. But may we always share that same Spirit of Love with our peers - our Claus Family.
Remember these words. It is not the fancy costume, the real or traditional beard, the fraternal organizations, the events, or the most extensive resume that makes the Santa. It is the heart. Share it.
In one of his most memorable holiday recordings, Elvis asks a poignant question. “Why can’t every day be like Christmas?” It is a good and valid question as we look at the times in which we live. These are tough times for many, and some would even go as far as to say that these are faithless times at that. This writer would disagree, and I would venture to say that Christmas is here to stay as long as we allow it to.
The message of Christmas is riddled with the theme of peace on Earth and goodwill to men. These are not concepts that must be lived once a year. These are life principles that can not only follow our lives every day but can also enrich both mind and heart throughout every time we face. Again, as we look at the meaning of Christmas and the first true Gift of Christmas we find that another key element is love. This is an unconditional love that spreads from the Baby of the Nativity to the entirety of mankind. This, too, can walk with us and empower us to carry out the task of creating peace.
Ultimately, if we truly want Christmas to last every day in the hearts of those living in these times it is up to each and every one of us to live by the principles set forth. To make it happen requires us to only do one thing – a good and caring deed for another. And then it becomes a chain reaction as one good deed deserves another and another and another.
Elvis finishes the song with the statement, “What a wonderful world this would be.” Indeed this is correct. If we can put aside so many of the negative things in life and can pick up and retain the messages of Christmas we can learn of peace and if we can learn of it we can obtain it with some hard work. They are timeless and they are correct in every particular. As we walk day by day may we be challenged to not only remember the message of Christmas, but also to live it to bring the wonderful back to a world that needs it.
Each Christmas Season that goes by has its share of interesting events. Some are sad, some are happy, and some are down right funny. Also, as the years go by it seems that everything starts earlier and earlier. I always guage the time of year by my birthday, November 5. Usually I begin the week after. However, this year I began the day before. So, my birthday found me sitting in the Picture Me Studio of my local Wal-Mart. For the sake of the following story alone I was happy to be spending my birthday in this way.
It started out as an ordinary shift of Santa pictures and the children were really excited to be seeing Santa. I had taken the contract through the Kringle Group to be at two of our local Wal-Marts in November for early pictures with Santa, also doing a shift at the local Sears store since the studios are owned by the same company. I arrived with bells on, literally.
The first few sessions went by rather routinely. The requests were for the usual things such as Barbie and 3DS Nintendos (I always like to get reactions from the kids so I always joke with those asking for video games that Santa is a real toymaker and ask if they would like a wooden soldier instead.) Of course, Santa must always be prepared for the unexpected.
Then he showed up, a young man of about six years of age with a blue turtle neck, a brown vest, and a smile as big as Christmas.
"Why hello there," I said.
"Hello!" he replied, coming to sit on my knee.
"What can I get you this Christmas?" I asked between shots.
"I want a plate of cheeseburgers," he said in a very serious tone.
"Are there any toys you might like?" I asked, trying not to giggle.
"Nah," he replied as we took our last photo.
As we finished our interview I reminded him to be a good boy and to be sure to listen in school and to his parents. He nodded his head yes and turned to leave with his mother. As he rounded the corner of the studio he turned and came back in a quick pace to me.
"And Santa," he said, "don't forget the Pepsi!" Then he waved and was gone.
That was it for me and the photo crew. We enjoyed a great chuckle from that request. I believe that out of all the birthday cards and well wishes I received, that young man brought me the best one yet!
Friends, I know that many of you have missed me here on Clausnet. How do I know? By all of the nice private emails and such, which I really appreciate. I thought I would let everyone know why I have been gone for so long. Well, the truth is simple - I have been busy.
As many of you know I have a Bluegrass band named Hominy Falls. Our music has taken us many places in a short period of time and across four states so far. We even had the honor of playing the International Bluegrass Music Association Convention a few short weeks ago. One of the funniest things about it is this, even with the band I get recognized. I tell both adults and kids that "Santa has to have a hobby too!" I always assure them that Mrs. Claus has everything under control and I am in constant contact with her and the elves. Christmas is well taken care of.
One fun thing that has come out of this is actual shows as the "Bluegrass Santa with his Secret Elves Band." The first ever will take place on December 3rd in McConnelsville OH at the Ohio Valley Opry. A new Christmas CD is also in the creative processes.
Between travelling, I have managed to fill up my schedule for this year with some new things. I decided to leave the Mall where I have been for the past five years. I felt at close of last Season that it was more of a "photo mill" than a "memory maker" and I want my Santa to mean so much more to the children. There was just no time to talk with them and I had to make a change.
Many new things are coming my way this Season, including the role of Father Christmas in our community's production of CS Lewis' "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe."
I was also able a few weeks ago to have a Santa Photo Shoot with my friend and mentor Jay Long. I will post a few of those in a few moments.
My friends, I have found that great things can happen when you decide to keep the Santa attitude all year. Give the people around you something, whether it be a gift, a song, or just a smile from Santa. I have been blessed with wonderful opportunity for doing just that. And I give God all credit.
There will be silent periods from me on and off as I have so much work to do promoting our band and especially working on my portion of the Jim Yellig Workshop. Please, remember that I love you all and wish you all the best in the bond of peace and brotherhood.
Say hello and give all the kids my love,
Santa John in WV
Living in these hills can be very interesting, especially when you hear all of the tales that go along with them. There are ghost stories, there are stories about the War Between the States, there are stories about feuds (Hatfields and McCoys occurred an hour and a half from my door), there are old ballads. But the stories that I am going to share for the sake of this blog are the Christmas stories, as mountain culture still has a peculiar way of celebrating this day every year.
First, I have to explain that there are two Christmases back in the hills. There is Old Christmas and there is New Christmas. You see, the folks in the hills never forgot the original date their family celebrated when they settled the rugged areas of then Northwestern Virginia. In the early 1700s the calendar was changed, and it left a twelve day gap from the New Christmas to the Old Christmas. Hence, the "Twelve Days of Christmas." In many areas to this day there are twelve days of feasting and celebrating, which also includes the practice of "belsnickeling" or "kringling."
The first gift giver of Christmas came into the woods and hills of this region in about the same time as the early settlers. He descended down with them from the settlements and stories of Pennsylvania where most of these folks had either lived for a while or had travelled through. He was the Belsnickle or Furry Nicholas. He was a mischievious fellow and would often deal punishment out on the children in an interesting way. Dressed in buckskins and animal fur with soot on his face, the wild man bearing gifts would come in and throw down candy upon the floor. The child who would grab it without asking first was whacked on the bottom with a birch rod by the Belsnickle.
Eventually, folks made a game out of the coming of the Belsnickle. To begin, the character visited homes in a similar way as many Santas do today. Often, he would wear a mask or disguise his face. Being a neighbor or a family member, the Belsnickle would amaze the children by telling them all of their misdeeds from the year before. The fun was then guessing who it was after he left. Over the years, "belsnickling" became a sport of the younger men in the villages who spent the Twelve Days of Christmas much like they would Halloween. They dressed in wild costumes and pulled pranks. Many a cabin had its chimney blocked with a sheet. The band of mischeif makers would laugh as the family ran out of their home which had filled with smoke.
Today, the Belsnickle still visits some of the remote areas in the northern mountains of our state. He is still as ornrey as ever. He pretty much remains there as the new guy, Santa Claus, moved in after Harper's Weekly started showing pictures of him at the North Pole in the 1860s. But that is another story.
For pictures of the Belsnickle please visit my gallery. Friends, I encourage you to seek out the history of Christmas in your area. It is amazing what you will discover.
Have you ever climbed a hill or mountain? I sure have, living in the Mountain State. My Dad and I used to visit our state parks. At one such park, on top of a large mountain and overlooking what a sign said was five states, was a large log tower. I can remember visiting this with Dad. Now, when I reach the top I often look back to see what obstacles and terrain I have passed over to get to that spot. I try to recall every large rock on which I have stumbled and where it is so that I don't stumble on the way back down. I get a new perspective on what I am doing and how I can proceed forward and either meet or remove a challenge that will be ahead of me on my journey back down. I have found, through practical experience that this is a good rule for life.
Over the past several years (and again rearing its head in certain circles today) the Santa community has done some climbing. There have been many ups and many downs. And, through it all, we are beginning to lose something that is very dear to our community. We are forgetting to pass on to the next generation the way that they can successfully reach the mountain top. We have too many in our community that are bickering over the size of the stones in the path and are ignoring the responsibility we have to one another in this mutual trek.
Through Phil Wenz I am gaining a great respect for Charles W. Howard, one of the greatest Santas to ever live. In conversation we have discussed the fact that Charlie left no stones unturned when it came to Santa. He learned all he could to develop his character, then added his own personality. But in the end what did he do? He didn't keep all that he had learned to himself and hoard information like a squirrel does acorns. He didn't bicker with other Santas about their flaws both private and public. Instead, he did the most wonderful thing that he could ever do - he passed the information on. And, posthumously, he still does.
In my mind, the Santa world should be much like the guilds of the Middle Ages. The guild was a group of like minded artisans and craftsmen who worked to preserve and maintain a standard in their professions. Each member felt responsible for the younger members and passed on a legacy of art and skill to them. That is what every experienced Santa should be doing, as opposed to fighting the battles of bygone days and raking up contention as some continue to do. There comes a time when we need to step back and look at what we are doing and correct it. To me, it seems that a good many are just not willing to move forward. I pray for these.
The state of Santahood is fragile. It needs to be lifted up and standards and practices (as well as trade secrets) need to be passed on and in a positive way. We need to leave a clean legacy for the future. We need to pass on the tenates that make a true Santa. If we can relearn to do that, then there is hope for us yet.
Just a hunch, but I think we need to look back now before we make one step forward and fall on our faces.
When we think of Santa, we should ultimately come away with this truth: Santa Claus = benevolence. He is the supreme example of selfless giving, next to the Meaning of Christmas. We all know that Santa gives and gives to all people with the truest of love and good will.
As Santa Clauses in our own right we too are called to give to the children of all ages that we serve as well. In the short time that we come into contact with them, we give the children something to believe in. Perhaps it is a smile to combat a tear. Perhaps it is a word of encouragement given at the right moment. It is something that they will remember.
While we deliver this service to the children we encounter in its truest form, we must not forget that we owe the same to our brothers in red. This, I feel, is something that we should all strive to do. We should encourage one another to excell in our ventures in the name of Claus. We should challenge one another to go the extra mile of kindness in mentoring and in general fellowship. Whatever endeavor is taking place, if there is a potential for making glad the heart of childhood we should all be willing to lend a helping hand and fond encouragement. The least we can do is lift up a brother to succeed and be the best Santa that he can be. This applies also to all Christmas folk and even the occasional Easter Bunny
So, let us all take a moment this week and reflect upon our actions toward our brothers in red, our neighbors in the community of Christmas. Are we doing all we can to encourage one another in the true spirit of Santa? Or are we only showing negativity and indifference? I pray that I am an encouragement to others everyday, as we all should be. Remember the words of the Reason for the Season, "Love thy neighbor as thyself."
Just got back from a lovely trip, travelling from my home in Saint Albans, West Virginia, across the state of Kentucky and to Santa Claus, Indiana. To me, this town is the cradle for most of what we as "modern" Santas do today. A good part of the protocols of being Santa began in that wonderful place.
As he has told me before in conversation, Phil Wenz reiterrated what could be referred to as "Yellig's Rules of Being Claus" to the attendees. For the sake of this entry I want to dwell on the first rule which is research. Santa Jim (as does Santa Phil now) believed in researching the character to know who you were portraying and why. You might call that mechanics. And indeed this does make sense.
Think of yourself, what do you know about yourself? Hopefully, a whole lot. You should be able to tell everyone all about yourself. Well, as we "become" Santa we should be able to do the same thing with him. In doing so we invite the children both young and old into the world of Santa, into a world that they will either believe in or will reject. I have witnessed too many Santas that have failed to bring realism to their role because of a lack of knowledge about Santa. Ultimately, as ambassadors to childhood and childlike faith we need to do the very best we can to instill belief and overall hope.
Maybe it was the atmosphere, maybe it was the presentation, or maybe it was the spirit of Santa Jim whispering in my ear the other day. The question kept coming to me, even though I have spent and continue to spend much of my free time learning about this person I become. Who is "my" Santa? How does my portrayal relate to that of Saint Nicholas? How does my portrayal relate to that of even Santa Jim or Charlie Howard? How does my portrayal connect with that of Santa Jay Long, my mentor Santa? I have thought hard about this, and I want to share with you what I have come up with so far.
The bond that connects my portrayal to theirs is first and foremost a love for others. A Santa has to first and foremost love others, children and adults. At the same time, my character portrayal is a mixture of the facts. I portray Santa in a spiritual way, honoring not only Nicholas but also Christ. I portray him as a humble toymaker, which is also something that does go back to Nicholas and other traditions. I picture and relate to him as a man who has travelled the world bringing joy and love, migrating from his home to the remote North where he can find solitude and peace. Are there really elves? Well, I like to call them helpers. What about reindeer? Not always does Santa use them. Do I know about where both of these come from? Yes, because I am Santa and I need to know. But in all things, I do my best to make him a living and breathing person for those who visit with me. And in all that I do or show, I make sure they feel the love that Santa has for them.
This is going to be a question that I truly ponder for a while. Very deeply. I think it is one that we all should ponder. Who is "your" Santa? And may we all grow and aid one another with our findings.
As most of the Santas here know, I am a fellow who is in favor of getting along. I am for peace in our community and for anything that will promote peace. I love anything that makes 1. children believe and 2. makes Santa a positive as opposed to a negative.
Truthfully, I had my doubts about a national or even a regional convention when the original thread was posted. I even voiced my opinions not only here but also in private chat with a few other Santas. I remember well the turmoil of 2010 after Celebrate Santa. I remember well what some unnamed Christmas folk did. And I realize that CindyLu and Tim were there too.
But the more I read about what Tim and CindyLu wanted to do, and read the posts showing the "boy scout" reasons for doing it I was intrigued. Peace and unity are majro factors for this event, not only with eachother as Santas but with a community who has been cheated also. I felt after reading what they were saying that they were honest and sincere in their approach. I honestly felt and still feel that there is nothing hidden in their motives.
When CindyLu asked me to be their ambassador to WV, I said to my wife that it would not be hard to share information to the Santas of my state. But what would I tell them? Well, I told them what I knew and about the purposes for having this event. All I met was positive. Watching the progress of this event and seeing first hand what is being put into it just makes me want to try even more to do what I can for making it's vision a reality.
Then there came a few negatives, some doubted that they would come and be a part of it. Well, that is going to happen. After speaking publically and privately with CindyLu about those negatives I strongly feel that there will be a big positive to come out of all of it.
So, what began for me with suspicion from what had happened in the past, I have decided to make a positive for the future. Hopefully not just for me. I believe in the principles of Claus Fest, and the only way that the cause of unity and fellowship will occur is through my personal work to make it happen.
The same with you, the only way that positive will be regained is by you stepping out with me and helping. It doesn't have to be ClausFest. It can be through FORBS and the Jamboree. It can be through posts here. It can be through any number of actions that support the brotherhood.
When we try to find the positive there truly is no stopping us from building a great future together. I just hope that that is what ClausFest stands as in the future. I am happy to be able to help.
Alfred C. Gilbert was a great toy maker. In fact, he is responsible for many of the classic toys of the early twentieth centuries, including the erector set and personal chemistry sets. He made everything from toy planes to toy trains and beyond. However, at the start of World War I all of this would change.
Gilbert's factory had been singled out to become a war munitions plant, a need that meant his Country before his beloved toys, a sacrifice made more dear as his own brother was drafted. His factory was soon modified and he began to make things like bullets, Colt pistols, gas maskes, and bayonets. He was miserable.
Not long after this, in the height of the Great War, the US War Department created a campaign that would tear at his heart. They wanted to postpone Christmas. "As the soldiers will have no Christmas," they said, "we too will sacrifice the same." Propaganda posters were soon hung up around the country with sayings like "Santa Claus Wants You To Give Up Christmas." But the worst for Gilbert were those that said he personally was asking boys and girls to give up toys. Coersed by his government contract he even spoke to other toy makers about this point and it was unanimously agreed that Christmas would not take place until after the war. Or would it?
Mr. Gilbert went to Washington. He lobbied at the War Department to reinstate Christmas. He explained that toys were a way to open the minds, hearts, and hopes of the generations and that now more than ever Christmas was needed. In fact, he amazed the politicians by explaining that it was his toys ysed by their department to create engineering plans and strategies. After a vote, Mr. Gilbert's point was carried home where his factory was back to the toy business. He was now serving his Country in another way, by bringing hope to the hopeless. He continued in this effort until his death in 1961.
A toy is a small thing to many, as Christmas to them is just another day. However, there is much more to both. The toy is a gift and a reminder of the hope that the Season brings, just as the day is a reminder of the Hope that was given to mankind long ago through a Baby in Bethlehem. Both have a way of stimulating the mind and the heart of an individual in seen and unseen ways. We are made better by both. May we live each and every day not only sharing the virtues of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men, but may we truly impart the wonder and the hope that it gives in all that we do, not only as Santas but as brothers and sisters in the human experience.
During a conversation with another Santa over the last year, the question was raised about whether or not children were changing with the times. This brought on some interesting discussion to say the least. At that time I truly doubted that children would ever totally change, and I affirmed that the simplest gifts would always be the most played with.
Then began the 2010 Season. I will admit that I was a bit discouraged when day after day I was asked for Ipads, Iphones, and other various and sundry electronics - some of which this Santa had never heard of. In fact, the more I listened I noticed that it was coming from children of all ages. I would have expected it from the pre-teens or beyond, but a four year old little boy? Very curious.
One night during a rather busy line-up, I was asked by a seven year old girl for one of these new fangled gizmos. I just had to ask her. "What is it about this new gadget that interests you?" I asked. "It does everything," she said and smiled. Then I rather jokingly said, "But what will you children think when we go back to wooden toys?" She shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
This put my mind to thinking that imagination was disappearing. I remember the Christmases of my youth and how all that the children ever asked for were toys that required this feature. Many was the time that my sister, my cousins and I would sit and use our imagination to play games for hours. We were residents of the "Imagine Nation" as Edmund Gwenn called it. But after my conversation with that young one (among all of the other gadget requests) I was beginning to think that kids had changed. They had no use for imagination or its fruits. If a toy can play with itself, then all the better.
Of course, I was stopped in my tracks come Christmas Eve. I have always spent that night of nights in my red suit. I had done some deliveries and had made my way to my family gathering. Of course, Uncle Ho Ho (as the nieces and nephews call me) had to hand out the presents. All of them had made out like bandits, and that was just from what their aunt, Michelle, and I had given them. Toys galore all over the living room. As the hours of Christmas Eve ticked away I sat in an easy chair with my nieces and nephews playing intently together. Then it happened. instead of the toys they so wanted for Christmas, the young ones had found something better to pass the time with. They had discovered the wrapping and the boxes.
New conclusion, the magic of childhood is here to stay. Children are always going to be the product of their times, ie in their wants and in their words and actions. However, deep down they will always be children. Though they might ask Mom and Dad (and Santa) for the gadget they saw on television or the one that their little friends are talking about, deep down they will always be children and have more fun with the boxes. That is why coloring books, modeling clay, dollies, and trains never go out of style. I would never wish it any other way, and as Santa I am proud to be a part of that magic. It is what makes all of us real in their eyes. May we adults relearn a few things from the children in our lives, and may we remember and never lose the magic.
Wow, 2010 has been an interesting year in the Santa Community. Drama after drama, with most being provoked over the smallest word or mistyped phrase. Then there are the national problems such as Celebrate Santa. Ego upon ego being trampled, and it doesn't stop. It does get nauseating.
What I want to take away from 2010 are the good things. Mrs. Claus and I had a wonderful Christmas Season to beat all else. Every smile that was created by seeing this Santa will be forever cherished. As a community, we saw the final signings of the wonderful Santa Claus Oath, which I was graciously allowed to be a part of as committee member. Those principles I still pledge to uphold. I wonder if others will. We had a wonderful, though small, gathering of Santas here in WV. What a great day. And throughout the year many friendships were made and are very cherished.
As I write this I am looking toward 2011. What can I do that will truly help me grow as a Santa and as a person of faith and character? This question has been rattling around with me since early this morning. My thought is this, love others. Is this not what Santa does? Is this not the lesson that Saint Nicholas learned from the life of Jesus that caused him to begin a ministry that we continue today? In doing so, we cannot ignore that even in our community there are those who are loveless or have forgotten what it means to show brotherly love, even after pledging it. Therefore I am welcoming and initiating a reconciliation in the spirit of Santa and beyond with those who have offended me or whom I have offended. I know it will take work, but in the interest of our Santa comunity I am willing to do it. My only prayer is that my effort will grow in the minds of others and that they too will do the same. Perhaps when we forgive and begin again to act as we should we can change things and bring finality and peace to problems. When we can act as men and go to one another in private with a grievance instead of using an open mike to tell everyone else too just maybe strife will end.
So, in short, I challenge everyone in this community to let go of past strife. Start clean. Be the Santa that is in you, 24/7/365. And this is something that we can do in costume and out. Just be Santa and may God bless you.
Boy, I didn't realize how long it has been since I have written a blog entry here. Well, things have been rather busy, and it seems that are beginning to again for this year. However, as I have been busy doing various things my wife, Michelle, had me cleaning out a closet here in my workshop. I came across a real treasure there. In a frame that I had forgotten about was a photo of my first "real" outing as Santa Claus. I was flooded with memories. I have included it in my gallery for you to see.
It was the Christmas of 1983, and I was in the first grade. Mrs. Hudson, my teacher, had asked for volunteers to be in our Christmas pageant in front of the whole school. As she announced the roles, and then announced the role of Santa, my hand shot up like a rocket. Looking back now it seemed that it was meant to be. The feeling I received from being allowed to be Santa was as if an unseen torch was placed into my hand. And I was on top of the world, literally.
My mother, a PTO/homeroom mother, had heard of my responsibility and set away that very evening making me a Santa suit. Out of some red material she fashioned a pull over coat and a hat. On both the coat and hat all borders were lined with white cotton balls. The jacket also received three large white felt circles to represent buttons. Then came the coton ball beard. I also had red sweat pants and one of Mom's large buckled black belts that were in early 1980s fashion. It was the most beautiful thing this kid had seen, and in my mind I would have to compare it to my Santa and Co suit of today. I wore that beard and hat until the beard wore out and a new one was bought by my father at a local five and dime, as they had children's religious pageant costumes and a wise man's white beard. But while wearing the original beard and my hat and red suspenders, Mom managed to take a picture of me in my chair holding to the best of my ability my new born sister, Amy, on my lap. It was her first Christmas and I was her first Santa. What a memory.
I had no speaking lines at all in the pageant. The scene was set that all the little children were to be asleep in their bed with their covers up and around them. As my class mates played "sleep" I was to quietly enter the scene as a chorus of sixth graders sang "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas." I was to walk up to the Christmas tree and then kneel down and emplty my large sack of toys. Then, as the chorus began "Up On The Housetop" I was to waive at everyone and leave the stage, all in silence. That was how it was supposed to go. As soon as the chorus finished their second song I exclaimed as loud as I could the words I have used as Santa ever since, "Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas!" There was a large applaud and a giggle and smile from both Mom and my teacher.
That was how it began for me. From there I went on to portray Santa for family and friends and for school each Christmas. I would star in two more pageants in the role as well. I acquired a nicer homemade suit from Mrs. Conn, my fourth grade teacher. Then when I was a teenager a Walmart suit, and then when Michelle and I were married a Corduroy suit. Then up, up, up, from there. I have been given the privilege to be Santa for many children and in many venues over these long years from schools to homes to malls to parades to festivals and parties. So many memories from all of them. This year will make my 27th Christmas Season as Santa Claus. I wonder what new adventures I will encounter and share with you. In all, I was just blessed to be a part of it and to be able to be in so many people's Christmas memories.
I have often heard it said by many of my peers in the red suit that the hardest things to do as Santa is visiting the children's hospitals and hospice house. Well, this year was my third visiting the children at our local hospitals and my first to visit a hospice house. Each year, Wells Fargo Third Party Administrators (Santa's Day Job) donates teddy bears to two of our local hospitals, Thomas Memorial Hospital and Charleston Area Medical Center's Women's and Children's Hopsital. These are the two hospitals where 99 % of all children are taken when ill. Of course, Santa and a small band of elves are responsible for delivery of these bears.
It really is the type of personal visit that I like to make, because the children all really appreciate getting to see Santa. I guess too it clicks with my Christian minister side as well. It has afforded me with some smiles and some tears, but each child is precious indeed. This past year, I softly stroked the hair of a 4 year old girl with cancer who couldn't even open her eyes to see me for being so sick. I was given a high five from a young fellow who had suffered another serious illness, but was thrilled to see Santa. I held 4 newborns, only hours old. I hugged a little girl with cancer that could hardly smile for the pain. Then I turned and held the mother of that same girl while she cried and thanked me. See what I mean about smiles and tears.
At Thomas Hospital they also have me to visit with some of the older folks who are there without family and such so the elves and I are tickled to oblige. We visited one woman with Down Syndrome suffering from a lung ailment who was thrilled to have Santa there. After a big hug and a few Christmas carols by the elves, she sat hugging her teddy bear which I had given her. You would have thought it was gold. Several other seniors enjoyed our singing, exchanging hugs and tears at the thoughtfulness of our visit. I reminded them that Santa is for children of all ages.
The came the emotionally draining part, the Hubbard Hospice House in Charleston, West Virginia. This is also the place where my father had passed earlier this Summer. You can imagine the feelings that came over me as I walked in. But all of my feelings of personal sadness and discomfort were soon gone as I went on to the duties at hand. I visited nearly every room. The elves would sing carols and I would speak with the patients and their families. Some were so sick that all I could do was hold their hand. In one room, a lady was watching her husband of 60 years slowly pass away. As I held her in my arms and comforted her tears she told me all about their love. In another room, a mother and father tried to get their son to open his eyes and see Santa. While holding my hand the mother explained that Christmas was her son's favorite time of year. She cried as she told me of how much he loved Santa. In another room, a mother on her death bed was being visited by her son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. I hugged the young girl and gave her a bear and coloring book with crayons, and as I went toward the bed to say hello I gave the grandmother a bear as well and spoke to her about being a good girl. She smiled as big as Christmas, though she couldn't say anything. Her son had to turn his back on the scene. I went over and placed my hand on his shoulder in comfort. The elves and I went on in our tour. But as I was leaving that day I met the son at the door. He gave me a large hand shake and with tears streaming down his face thanked me for bringing one last smile to his mother's face. As I headed back to the North Pole, the tears flowed.
One of the duties that we have in this red suit is that we are ministers of hope to all the people we meet, no matter how healthy or sick, rich or poor they might be. We are ambassadors of Saint Nicholas, who was given a ministry of God to take care of the needs of those around him. Whether inside the suit or out of it we need to remember to do this. Truly, it was a blessing to me just to know that I was a blessing to others. The toys that I gave out will be forgotten, but the love that this Santa had for those folks I pray will never leave them. It is in things like this that we Santas do the most good. I pray that we all will strive to do more on this end to be blessings in red.
More to come a little later.
"Christmas came and Christmas went; Christmas this year was Heaven sent."
- Johnny Cash
As I sit here thinking back on perhaps my greatest Santa season yet, I am reminded of several events which helped to shape this year in particular. These are the memorable moments with children of all ages that each Santa is very accustomed to experiencing. It seems that this year I was blessed to have had a great number of children simply looking for the magic that can only be found in Santa. So, today I want to write about some of the happenings that took place at one of my bigger jobs as Santa, the Mall.
This year marked my second year as the Monday/Tuesday Santa for the Charleston Town Center Mall in Charleston, West Virginia. Each year the Mall puts together a theme. Since for the past two years the WV Division of Forestry has been a large sponsor for the Santa set I was placed inside of a cabin, complete with fireplace and Christmas tree, centered in a large display called "Santa's Frosty Forest." It is a beautiful set, and I am seated in a large red chair. However, the heat on the set was awful and on a few occasions I was forced to take a break from my work just to cool down. You see, although I was inside of my cabin I was also in full regalia. This brings me to a point I made with the executives that Santa should be allowed to wear his vest and shed the coat. But that is another story.
The memories began creation on the first shift of the season. I was visited by three small children and their mothers all the way from Paris, France. The mothers spoke broken English, but the children did not know any English and had never seen Santa before. The oldest was five years old. Well, it was an Edmund Gwenn moment which surprised not only the mothers and the children but also myself. I happened to have studied some French in high school and had a lovely conversation with the children. Sometimes the mothers would help a little, but it all came out wonderfully well. Happy parents, happy children, and a bewildered but estatic Santa. It is always amazing to me how things that you might forget about come back into play in just the right way when in the red suit.
He was standing in line all by himself. He stood smiling at me as I finished up the interview with the child before him. Noticing what I took to be a parent at the corner of the set, I motioned for the boy of seven to come up and talk with me. I asked if he had been a good boy and his reply was that he had been. So I proceeded to ask him what he might like for Christmas. He answered that he didn't want a thing. I questioned this. "Surely there is something you might like me to bring?" I asked. His reply has haunted me since, "Well, I was going to come and ask you for a family that would love me. But I got one last week." He was an orphan who had nearly lost hope of having a family of his own. He had decided that he would ask Santa about it. But, just as he had decided to do so a family had come into his life. He merely came to thank Santa for hearing his request and delivering it early. All I could do was hug him.
They were waiting in line for me as I came to the set one Monday morning. One of the sisters from Saint Anthony's Catholic school had brought a class of twelve to see me. She wanted a group picture. So, with two on my knees, eleven children stood around my chair. I noticed that one smaller boy was sitting on the other side of the set in tears. The good sister was reprimanding him severely. I asked the children why he didn't come up and they all began to laugh about him. I noticed that after my interview with the group that not only had the sister not stopped her reprimanding of the small boy, but that it had brought down the Marketing manager of the Mall. The manager tried to explain to the sister that what she was doing was wrong and that a visit to Santa was something to bring joy, even without sitting on my knee. The sister told her to mind her business and continued on. As the sister went to review the picture I noticed the little fellow stand and look at me. She had told him to stand there and not move. I could feel the hurt in his eyes. It infuriated me to see the young boy talked to in such a fashion. I couldn't let him leave without saying something to him, so I motioned him up. Here he came with a large smile. We had a wonderful chat, and at the end of it he huged me. Later it was told to me that the sister had asked for a picture of that, but the Marketing Manager stepped up and said, "No, that is his memory of Santa and you cannot have that." I felt like Santa had triumphed.
Those are just a few of the stories that I plan on telling you about. There will be more to follow. The one thing I do believe made the difference this year was that I had prepared my heart more for the things that would come. The people were ready to experience magic again and I was willing to be just that to them. As Ed Butchart said, "Embodying something to believe in is not for the faint of heart." I agree, but I think I was up for the challenge. You will here more about my sleigh ride next time. Stay tuned.
I know it has been quite a while since I have written in this blog, and for that I am sorry. I do so enjoy spending this time with all of you. Santa has been very busy over the last month or so. Today, I would like to tell you a little about what I have been doing, share a few stories, and impart some small amount of Santa wisdom.
Well, my wife Michelle (Mrs. Claus), Toby (our dog), and I first went on vacation to Myrtle Beach SC. Before each Season we find it helps to fully unwind before taking on all of the unseen stress that being Santa brings. I highly recommend this and also a few days rest after Christmas if possible. We enjoyed a week of fun in the sun with all of the great seafood that we so enjoy. I don't believe that there is a Christmas shop that we did not go in while there. Of course, I left with a few new trinkets. Great buy on straps of sleigh bells that I could pass up. Yes, Santa was recognized by children of all ages. One evening as Michelle and I were heading down for an evening walk on the beach, I was greated by a little voice yelling "Hi, Santa!" I looked and there was a family parked next to the beach access ramp and a boy of five hanging out of the window of the family car. I waved, but could here the father saying "That's not Santa." I motioned to him to see if he would allow me to come up for a chat and he did. I assured them that I indeed was Santa and that I was on a little vacation. The family loved it. I found out that both children in the car loved Transformers and that they wanted them for Christmas. Both children promised to be good and shook my hand on it. Dad had no idea what to think and just smiled and laughed the whole time. I gave a great big "Ho Ho Ho" and went back to Mrs. Claus who also was chuckling. Hey, that is what we do as Santa. We bring smiles and laughter to a world of sadness. Everyone in that car was a child for just a few moments.
Upon return back to my home here in WV, I immediately began the task of completing my schedule for the Season. I basically work every day except Wednesdays and Sundays. Those days I reserve for time in Church with my wife and family. It is very important when you have a packed schedule to at least give yourself one night with loved ones. This year I find myself dividing my time between our local mall, the Charleston Town Center, on Mondays and Tuesdays, VisitSantaOnline for at least ten hours later in the week, corporate parties, house visits, and charity work on most Saturday mornings. I am a coordinator with our local Secret Santa Foundation and so I will be spending a great deal of time getting toys together. Yes, Santa is a busy man.
Another thing that I have been doing is getting things ready for my big journey on Christmas Eve. My wife and I have a toy ministry in which I go out on Christmas Eve and deliver toys to especially needy families who slip through the cracks within a three county area. Each payday throughout the year we set aside $20 to buy toys. Our basement is full! So far I have a Church that has twenty needy children and three deserving families to help this year. I will begin delivery around 3pm and project to be finished around 10pm. I will then pick up Mrs. Claus and head for my mother's house for dinner and presents. After that we have a few friends who have asked for Santa to come by through the night to leave gifts for their children. If I make it to bed by 2am I will have had a great evening.
Another thing that I have began to do to get ready for the Season is to begin a walking regimen. I work in an office as a rule and sit at a desk for 8 hours. It can be hard on the joints. Santa must be able to move around when dealing with the children, and I find that light stretching and walking helps. My course takes me from my office, down two block to the Mall, through the Mall, and back to the office each day at lunch. Attired in my usual red shirt and wearing my red converses, I do get the stares and smiles. I enjoy that. Just Tuesday as I was walking into Sears to see their Christmas trees I was stopped by the manager who was thrilled to have Santa in his store. He had to shake my hand before I could get back to walking. This is a great way for me to keep up my visibility and to also make a few contacts. You really never know who you will run into. You should see the stares I get when I enter the toy stores and pass the cookie stores:)
I guess the main thing that I can pass to everyone is this, relax and have fun. We are getting ready to go into the busiest time of our year and as Santa we have to be at the top of our game. Besides exercise, eating right, taking vitamins, and getting sleep, we first and foremost need to clear our minds and hearts of junk that can distract us from being able to give every child both young and old the experience that they deserve with Santa. Each person who sees us has a dream of Santa and it is up to us to make that dream come true. When we are relaxed and are having fun, then we can achieve just that. I am looking forward to a busy, yet fun and rewarding Season and I hope you are too. So, let's get ready to get out there and be the best Kringle we can. Good luck!
Glad Tidings and Much Love always,
Santa John Johnson in WV
Over the past few weeks I have thought a great deal about my father and how he inadvertently has influenced me in my becoming Santa. Yes, Dad had a loving heart for all people, especially children. A devout Christian, Dad relished in the celebration of Christ's birth. He loved to give and to watch the faces of those he gave to. I guess it was this early image of my own father that has drawn me to the role I now occupy as Santa.
But there are other men, too, who wore the suit that I remember fondly from Christmases past that helped to pass the flame of Christmas Spirit to me. These men were Santas too, and not just in their suits. They lived it. One still does.
As early as I can remember I had been taken by my parents, grandparents, and aunts to see Santa. One of the first that I went to see, and who I have gotten to know over the years was Jay Long. Jay and his wife were Mr. and Mrs. Claus and could be seen everywhere during the early eighties at Christmastime. I remember then fondly appearing at school breakfasts and in parades. I also remember the day that Dad brought Santa home to see me personally. What a day we had. I was only four, but I had Santa all to myself. I showed him every toy I had and we talked about everything. I guess that it was this experience with Jay that taught me that Santa is much more and should be much more to a child than an untouchable being that sees all and waits to punish with coal in your stocking. No, Santa is a friend. He is a being that radiates love and giving, something that the child may not find in any other part of the world. The more I remember and the more I noticed later about Jay, he was the same with all children and loved them unconditionally. Now in his 80s, Jay can be seen around town often. Even without his long beard on you can see Santa by the gleem in his eye. To me, he is Santa.
Another man whom I have admired since childhood actually held for many years the post that I do at the same mall. His name was Okie Turley. I remember going to see him later in my childhood. He was the first Santa that I ever saw with real whiskers. He, just as Jay, was Santa. He cared for the children and seemed to enjoy each and every visit, a task that sometimes can become hard as child after child crosses your lap. That is a lesson that I learned from him, to enjoy each and every moment. If you enjoy them, they will enjoy you and will remember their visit more fondly. No child deserves their visit with Santa to be marred by disinterest. Well, Okie was always interested. He also was very authentic, a lesson I learned from him. Also, whether at a summer picnic, a jaunt to Sam's Club, or in the chair Okie was Santa. He used to really make some of us nervous because he knew all of our names. I know now that Grandpa had told him everything about me. They were fishing buddies.
Both of these men had a lasting impression on countless children and relished their role as Santa Claus. Neither of them had any idea that one of the children who visited them both would have picked up their torch. Though Okie is gone now and Jay is semi-retired I still think of them as my role models in true Santahood. I plan on visiting with Jay at some point and talking to him about Santa. I like to think Okie already knows that the mantle has been passed. Thanks guys!
Many others have also helped to shape this Santa. Some I will never or haven't met notably are Santa Jim Yellig, Santa Charles Howard, Santa Ed Butchart. These men all seemed to have a piece to offer that I did before have. And of course there is all of you. Thanks.
Santa is something that is passed from one to another of us. An idea is so often shared. We sometimes don't know how our ideas are taken and used. Sometimes I wonder if Saint Nicholas had any idea that the torch would be picked up this many centuries later. Also, we need to be aware just who we are impacting to be the next generation. Jay and Okie had no idea, and neither do we really. Santa is a torch fueled by Christmas Spirit. At some point, in order to survive, it will choose another. Let us all be thankful taht at one time we were chosen.
Glad tidings and much love,
Santa John Johnson in West Virginia
Well, all of the things that I had planned for the past week have either been cancelled or postponed. I was hit with terrible sadness over the past week as I learned that my father, John William Johnson III, had passed away due to complications of a massive heart attack and two large strokes. He remained unconscious through it all, having suffered a fall that had sent him to the hospital to begin with. He was 54.
My father was a great man in my eyes. Though he and my mother had divorced when I was four and though he and I had been semi-estranged for a number of years, I am flooded with remembrances of him. Dad was a great joker and prankster. My cousins and I were often the brunt of these things. He loved children and enjoyed being a big kid himself. He had a big heart and was always willing to give when anything he had was needed. He was first and foremost a Christian and even his last words, spoken as he briefly opened his eyes before the final coma, were "I just saw Jesus." I am honored to have called this man my father.
This has been a week of much thought about my father. After talking a little to Santa Paul Sheehan via email I came to a full realization. Though Dad had never physically put on the red suit, he did wear one around his heart. His love of children, of giving, and that playful grin he was known for showed that. Also, my fondest memories with him all seem to focus around the Christmas Season. He was always jovial and always laughing, enjoying the time he had with his family as he watched with a sparkle in his eye at how they opened their gifts. I realized this week that he was one of my greatest inspirations in doing what I do. Dad first and foremost had really been the one who first taught me all about Santa Claus.
Over the past few years, do to some family disagreements that would never go away, my Dad and I did not speak very often. The last conversation I had with him was very light and we both just enjoyed talking together. During that four hour conversation I was made so happy by the fact that he came right out and told me that he loved me and that he was especially proud of me for two things: my ministry in Christ and my further ministry as Santa Claus. He had seen it coming all along, the fact that I would become Santa. And he was extremely proud of me for this. When we said goodbye that day I never realized that it would be the last time we would speak. So much goes unsaid, but I know that we loved one another and that all is well now. He is with me.
One thing he did love was the Coca Cola Santa. He had been after me for quite a while to look more like this icon, because it was his favorite image. So, this year I had saved my money and had a replica of this suit made in his honor. Though I had told him about it, he never got to see me in that suit. This year I will wear it for him, and I hope that through the portals of Heaven he can see me making glad the hearts of childhood. I'll wear it for Dad, my Santa.
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