* 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 little vintage shop where I work and instantly I noticed his full white beard. That’s not so remarkable these days as beards are a big trend in men’s grooming styles. But 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 other 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 a newspaper ad for a seasonal golly gentleman at a local shopping mall, that the transformation become complete and Clark was able to bring his gift to all the folks in 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, sit on his knee and pose. Then Christmas eve arrives and Santa has to do his real job. But Clark made another arrangement with the community mall he serves as Santa. His focus, first and foremost, is the experience and the memory he is making with those who visit him and the photo, would only 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. As he continues, his compassion is palpable.
We both got glossy eyed as he recounts 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 another Santa’s knee and told Santa Clark that the photo was taken a month before she lost them both in a car accident. Then she told him that several months later, her house burned down and this photo was the only one that survived. He understood that it took real courage for that women to come up and sit on his knee.
The special needs community from all over Vancouver Island know that this Santa will provide the patience needed to make a visit with him, special.
If it takes 15 minutes to sit with someone and go over their Christmas list or just chat, he will. Others wait patiently in line knowing full well, that they too, will get the very same attention when it is their turn.
You see, Clark knows what’s the most important aspect of his role as Santa. It’s 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 does understand 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, it’s totally unique and can mean so much to the 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 morning after Halloween. But meeting Santa Clark today, has helped me set my resolve to not get caught up into the spending hype this holiday but rather, to seek out the wonders and the sparkle of the season and to spend quality time with friends and family with good will in my heart 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 have to take notice, get into the spirit and believe.