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.