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