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!