* Spoiler Alert *
If you don’t believe that Santa Claus is real and you don’t want your faith restored, stop reading now.
The gentleman came into the shop and instantly I noticed his full white beard. These days that is nothing remarkable as beards are a big trend in men’s grooming styles. When I asked him what brought him downtown today, he replied, “to get my beard trimmed.” It was shaped rather nicely.
We struck up a conversation on beards, the pros and cons of wearing a beard year round, whether they were too hot in the summer and the warmth they gave in the winter when he confided that he usually shaves his off right after Christmas.
My look of astonishment prompted him to reveal his alter identity. He is Santa Claus.
Instantly my inner child sat right up and paid attention. Santa Claus, right here in the shop!
Well he is for the Christmas season at any rate, for the rest of the year he is Clark, a mild mannered, retired gentleman with a wife and two grown daughters.
Being the curious person that I am, I had to ask him how he got into the Santa trade. He said he use to volunteer for an outreach non-profit many years back and while organizing a Christmas party for this communities street youth, he realized that a lot of the street youth have children of their own. so he felt a Santa Claus would definitely be needed for the Christmas party.
For the first few years, he wore a fake beard, then progressed to growing one and bleaching it until finally maturity blessed him with the real thing, a full, snow white mat complete with curled up moustache whiskers. Imagine the Coca Cola Santa and there you have it.
But it was only when he answered an newspaper ad for a seasonal golly gentleman at a local shopping mall that the transformation become complete and Clark was able to bring his gifts to all the folks of my town.
For most big shopping malls the focus for Santa is to get the kid on his lap and get the photo. Hundreds of people will shuffle up and pose before Christmas eve arrives and Santa has to do his real job. But Clark made an arrangement with the community mall he serves at as Santa, his focus is the experience and the memory he is making with those who visit him first and foremost and the photo would be a by-product of the visit, a memento.
All are welcome on this Santa’s lap not just children; young, old, four legged, no legged, winged, even eight legged. He has had his picture taken with them all.
Clark says some of his most memorable visits are from the elderly. His compassion is palpable. We both got glossy eyed as he recounted the story of an older women’s confession that it was her first visit to Santa in decades. She pulled out an old, worn photo of her husband, daughter and her self on a Santa’s knee and told Santa Clark that the photo was taken a month before she lost them both in a car accident. Several months later her house burned down and the photo was the only one that survived. It took real courage for that women to show up and sit on his knee.
The special needs community from all over Vancouver Island know this Santa will provide the patience needed to make a visit with Santa special. If it takes 15 minutes to sit with a person and go over their Christmas list or just chat, he will, and others will patiently wait knowing full well they too will get the very same attention.
You see Clark knows what is the most important aspect of his role as Santa, to be present not to give presents. A touch, a hug, a laugh, those are his gifts. He understands that when he is Santa he offers people hope and maybe something to believe in. Even if it’s just the reminder of a fond childhood memory or to reaffirm that someone out there in this vast, lonely world really does care. This Santa really understands how to create magic.
In the shop where I work I have been blessed to meet many interesting people. Folks from vastly different cultures, characters with fascinating life stories, and gentle souls who have taught me to believe in the power of the human spirit.
Santa gave me an early Christmas present today when he walked into my shop and shared with me his magical personality. He reminded me that the best gift to give, no matter what season it is, is the gift of yourself. It costs nothing, is totally unique and can mean so much to its recipient.
In this crazy consumer world, Christmas is not two months away but will be hitting us full on as soon as the dew is off the jack o lantern the following morning. Meeting Santa Clark today has helped me set my resolve to not get caught up into the spending hype this upcoming season but rather seek out the wonders of the winter festival by spending quality time with friends and family and with good will to all instead.
Because when a mythical character as loved as Santa Claus comes strolling into your place of work in October, you kind of half to believe.