It wasn’t a deliberate decision, but for the past two years I’ve been on Santa sabbatical.
It’s felt a little weird, especially this year; kind of like the feeling an active church-goer gets when they’ve missed worship for a few Sundays. It’s like the rest of the week feels a little off when you’ve missed church.
Stress has been a factor, along with my wife’s health struggles, and a recent transition from care center chaplaincy to serving a new church in a new town. I did some of my best “Santa-ing” at the care center, but also felt the biggest push-back I’ve ever experienced, from people whose strongly-held religious beliefs had convinced them that Santa was an inappropriate person to appear there (and that a pastor-type person had no business portraying him).
There’s a lot more tolerance at my new setting, and health concerns aren’t nearly as big as they’ve been.
So let’s raise a toast to the New Year, 2019, with the hope that it’s going to be a great year for all us Jolly Old Elves, Mrs. Clauses, elves and reindeer!
When I first started out and began dreaming about great places for Santa to visit, I thought it would be great to visit a senior care facility. I figured the gray-haired kids needed a visit from Santa as much as any other children.
The goal got put on the back burner until last year, when I began working at a great senior care place that offers quality living arrangements for seniors--from assisted living, to skilled nursing, to memory care. I only got to do a couple of visits last year, which was fine, since getting acclimated to the new job took most of my energy.
This year the activities coordinator asked me to do 4 appearances, including the Family Christmas Dinner, and the end-of-the-year parties celebrating the programs that bring schoolchildren over to volunteer. I got to hold a 2-month-old girl while her mom snapped a few shots, I gave out candy canes to kindergarten and grade school kids, and I got to tell the older folks that they'd been on Santa's good list for many, many years, while their adult children took pictures of me with them.
So this year I got to visit with kids "from 1 to 92" and it was a fantastic experience! Since it's a Christian care center, I had the opportunity to bring the Reason for the Season into my visits, which made it even better. In addition to singing "Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer" we also sang the first verse of "Away in a Manger." At the end of the visits, I encouraged the children to "respect your teachers, listen to your parents, help those who need it, be kind to everyone, and remember that before there was Christmas, there was Christ." The capstone event was Christmas Eve morning, when Santa came to read "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" to the gray-haired children who had come with some of their great and great-great grandchildren.
All in all, Christmas 2014 goes down as one of the best ever.
Last Wednesday I made a brief Santa visit at the senior center's Adopt-A-Grandparent Day. The kids seemed to enjoy it as Santa arrived, and began to hand out little gift bags (put together by an activities coordinator). It's the first appearance I'd done in over a year and I was surprised at how nervous I was. I knew I was rusty when I decided to ask the kids to help sing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and suddenly tensed up because I was afraid I'd forget some of the words during the song!
But I made it through, with the kids singing along with gusto.
I ended the visit telling the kids to listen to and respect their parents and teachers, be good to each other, and that Santa would be back in a couple of weeks with some wonderful surprises.
Today I heard that some of the seniors were disturbed that I didn't take the opportunity to talk about Jesus as the reason for the season. I suppose they have a point, but I wonder why they couldn't just enjoy the event like most of the other people seemed to enjoy it.
This might be my only appearance this year, but it was great to get back into the suit and bring smiles to kids and adults alike.
Actually, over a year away. Soon after Christmas '11, my wife and I began thinking seriously of moving out to Northern California to work with my brother-in-law at a unique business he owns, a former stage coach stop turned into a bar/restaurant/hotel and set in one of the prettiest places you could imagine.
It was difficult from the get-go, and soon became apparent this arrangement wasn't going to work for a number of reasons. Christmas season came and there weren't any opportunities to be Santa. Again, the arrangement was a poor one, and the area itself is one of the poorest areas in the state, if not the nation. Real jobs were scarce, and there wasn't a church in the area with a pastoral vacancy.
Last spring was beautiful, but somewhat desperate. I began praying earnestly that some opportunity open up there. By summer I realized that I'd go anywhere God wanted me to go and serve as God wanted. It was in that time that the phone rang. The bishop's office back home in Colorado was wondering if I'd consider a unique call to a special two-point parish that was coming together out on Colorado's Eastern Plains. As we spoke, I could already begin to see this would combine some of my favorite pieces of ministry--chaplaincy, and church-growing.
The final details were put together by early September, then sat on someone's desk for about a month before they went out for my acceptance. We moved in late October and I started this new postion, part-time at a large senior care center, part-time at a small church 30 minutes up the road, on November 1.
It's been great to be back in Colorado. I've been as busy as I've ever been, but that is a very good thing. Now the care center is inviting me to be Santa at one or two events over the next two weeks and I'm thrilled. If that's all I do this season, I'll be happy. It's just so good to be back.
My second season was similar to last year's inaugural Santa Claus experience. My favorite client called again and arranged a booking that added another hour to the event. Again, I made an appearance at a non-profit toy giveaway to children and families in need. And I added a new client who booked me at an apartment complex Christmas party.
Again, I made just a handful of appearances, and this was alright, given the unusual year that has been 2010. In the Spring, I guided my small, mostly elderly congregation into closing the doors after 50+ years of ministry (I'd been there for the final 6 years of it's life). My marriage of 19 years officially came to an end. And for a while I found myself in the growing number of jobless people in this country. There is nothing worse than getting to a place where you wonder where you're going to live, how you're going to afford a tank of gas, and whether or not it's time to visit a food bank.
But the late summer and fall brought good changes. I took a position working in campus ministry, albeit in a part-time capacity. I moved to a better part of the metro Denver area, and I found a special companionship I didn't think possible. This fall, life took on a new sense of normal that was pretty good. But I'd let Santa Claus drop off my radar screen.
Santa sort of snuck up on me this year, but I'm glad he did. The season got brighter and much more exciting. I added some boots to the ensemble this year, retiring the spats. I played around with spirit gum to better fix the beard to my face. I picked up a nicer Santa possibles bag to better carry my stuff to and from events. And I began again to look at the possibilities offered by this still-new experience of bringing the magic of Santa Claus to children and families.
I'm getting cues that tell me I need to take some additional steps down the Santa road this offseason. I've been contacted by a group, Society of Santas, and have been invited to their January meeting. I'm starting to look at making bigger investments in the costume, especially paying attention to upgrading the whiskers. I may sign up for the Santa school in California, though I've been told there is a very good mentor in the area who could help me.
I've not been on ClausNET much this past year, but I've really enjoyed reading the Gazette, and have enjoyed the posts and forums I find here. Hopefully I'll be able to contribute more to this good community as I continue this amazing journey down Santa Claus Lane.
Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!
I'd wanted to post Part II much earlier, but the busy-ness of the season crept up on me. Now here it is Christmas night with several more visits under my belt. This first visit, though, was special, because the children belonged to the daughter of my best friend since 6th grade. I'd known Nicole since she was just an infant growing up in the small apartment of my friend Danny and his wife, Sandra. Now here I was some 30 years later visiting her house and her children as Santa Claus. The girls are both special needs children and have a special innocence about them. The little boy has a sweet face, but also a bit of a mischievous streak making him a chip off the ol' block.
I sat in a chair by the Christmas tree as each child came to sit on my lap to tell me what they wanted for Christmas. I found myself still trying to find the appropriate level of voice for Santa and caught myself a couple of times dropping my voice to a low register. In theory, a good idea, but as I heard myself it didn't sound authentic.
The girls both were excited to show me their artwork. Little Toler brought me a small, ornament-sized, plastic nativity. Pointing to the little figure of the baby in the manger, I asked him, "Who is this?"
He looked intently at the baby then looked up at me and then replied, "His name's Warren." (One of a couple of Ho Ho Ho moments.)
The children all wanted to know about the reindeer. Where were they? Could they see them? They gave me a little plastic container of "reindeer food" to give to the reindeer. Later inspection revealed this to be instant oats with green and red colored sugar.
After some 45 minutes it was time to leave. The kids got gift bags as they again wanted to take me by the hand and lead me out. Nicole did a good job screening them from the door, so they wouldn't see me walk out to the truck.
This visit was the first visit to reveal the real magic of Santa Claus, which is found in the wonderful, loving energy of believing children. As someone who has gone on into the field of pastoral ministry it is a helpful reminder that these qualities also work magic in adults as well.
Last night was my first ever appearance as Santa Claus. I was visiting friends and their children; two girls, ages 5 and 7, and a boy who is about 4. I looked at this as a chance to shake out all the rookie mistakes I'd likely make in the comfort of supportive people. And there were rookie issues that popped up, even as I dressed and made ready to leave home. I had the suit on, was searching for keys, then realized I'd need an alternate way to carry my belongings, since Santa's suit (at least this one) has NO POCKETS! As I scrambled to find a suitable carrying device, all sorts of thoughts crept into my mind; what if I misplace my keys and get locked out of the car? What if I forget all my stuff when I make my exit? I found a smallish, burgundy stash bag I'd used for a camera on a hike and decided it would suffice. OK, all was about ready, but where was my assistant, who agreed to come along and hand out the little gift bags she said she'd prepare? Time was flying, I was running late waiting, but she finally showed up as I walked out the door. She had all the raw materials, but nothing yet put together. Well, she'd just have to do it in the background during the visit. So we climbed in the Santa-mobile and off we went.
I'd found some decorative bells at Big Lots that reminded me of the incense censers I've seen used in church (Lutherans don't get in to that stuff generally, though there are exceptions). I pulled up in front of a next-door house, got out, and proceeded to announce my visit with the bells and Santa's greeting, "Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas"
I walked through the door and was immediately greeted by three excited children. Little Toler, the boy, reached out for my hand as he looked up at me with excited eyes. "Santa, would you like to come see our Christmas tree? I'll show you my ornament!" The girls were in agreement, I must see their tree. So they took me by the hand and off we went to the living room. Toler took the ornament--HIS ornament--off it's branch and lifted it up. A Pirates of the Caribbean commemorative ornament. Toler is in what will later be known as his pirate phase. All of my anxieties about whether they'd believe I was Santa had gone out the window. I WAS Santa Claus. Mom invited me to take a seat in a chair next to the tree and off we went.
I'll post Part II of this experience later, including stuff I learned and stuff I need to work on. I'd sure welcome your comments.
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