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The Life and Times of Santa Claus WV

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Tales of Christmas 2008

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John Johnson

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"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.

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