94: Being Santa

94: Being Santa

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Being Santa

Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get, only what you are expecting to give.

~Katherine Hepburn

For several years now I have happily taken on the task of helping Santa by writing personalized Santa letters to children all over the world, for the pure pleasure of doing it. And I really mean personalized! I write each child every year until they are ten, and longer if they have special needs. It is the grandparents who generally send me three highlights of the child’s previous year, and Santa comments on them. Parents keep the letters to preserve a running history of the child growing up through the eyes of Santa Claus.

Eventually my letter writing activities came to the attention of the management of a huge mall in Western Canada. Helping out Santa in such a place allows me to talk about the magical season with literally thousands of children every year. There is a great deal of commonality in these visits, but I always try to make each one special, for not only the children, but for the parents or grandparents who brought them. I get to perform my duties forty-two hours a week for five to six weeks every season. The mall takes such good care of me, Santa’s helpers, and the children and families who wait in line for two hours each day, that I decided to offer my services free of charge for any special visits.

That happy day came when a member of the Public Relations office asked if Santa would visit some special children on behalf of the mall. Along with the visit and the usual photos, I would receive information on each child in order to write them their personalized letters from Santa.

On the appointed day, before I changed into my “uniform of joy,” I chose the best place for the photos. In a traditional family room, Santa’s comfortable easy chair with wide armrests sat next to the most beautiful Christmas tree I’d ever seen. With my love of being Santa always at the fore, I began what turned out to be the greatest evening of my life. I was especially thrilled to see a number of children from different cultures waiting to see Santa Claus.

The first youngster was a little girl of about eight. To describe her smile would be to redefine the words beautiful and radiant. We talked about Christmas, had our picture taken and shared a number of laughs. What a sheer joy she was! Her mother sat on the couch taking in the visit and the happiness, and it was so easy to see where this young girl got her smile.

Next were two boys about twelve and fourteen. Their continuous laughter raised the fun of their visit to a level that went through the roof. Everyone who was also in the room was laughing along with us. What great boys they were!

Then came the infant. Only four months old, he was as cute as he was tiny, and of course, he had no clue he was in Santa’s arms. When I speak to newborns I’m actually speaking to the new parents. I remind them what a special season Christmas is for everyone who believes in love and magic. The baby doesn’t care, but you see the excitement rise in the mother, thinking of all the Christmases to come. Tears fill her eyes, but seeing these tears combined with her smile, I know I’m seeing tears of sheer love and joy. A life to look forward to.

Have you ever looked at the innocent face of a five-year-old-boy knowing the spirit you see within should be shared with the world? That was Joel! He climbed into my lap with a quiet confidence. His mother teared up immediately and whispered in my ear, “He’s never sat in Santa’s lap before. He’s been too frightened.” What an extreme honour this was! Joel and I had a serious talk about Christmas, and what he would eat for supper, and what his favourite gift would be. He kept looking from me to his mother, forming a connection that seemed to bring me into his family. I loved Joel immediately!

There were other children who visited Santa that night, and they were all special to be sure, but these four stood out. Once the photos were all taken, and I had read The Night Before Christmas with Joel hanging over the armrest of the chair listening intently, it was time for Santa to leave. I bid farewell to those assembled and thanked them all for spending treasured time with me. I was then overjoyed when sweet, young Joel took me by the hand and walked me down the hall to the front door. I shook his small hand and, when I realized that wasn’t enough, I bent down and gave my new friend a huge hug. A Christmas present for all time!

With the information from the children in my hand, I immediately called my wife, Linda, at home in British Columbia, and told her about my wonderful evening. While talking to her I started reading the letters I’d been given about the children. We both cried as we learned what these incredible children had been through, and still maintained their joy of living.

The first little girl had just had an artificial heart implanted and was awaiting a complete heart transplant. The twelve-year-old-boy was connected to an oxygen tank and was hoping for a donor for a double lung transplant. The infant child had been born four months premature, and was going home for the very first time in his young life. And Joel? Over the previous year, he had undergone five heart surgeries.

Once the tears had stopped, I began writing the answers to these children. It took a great deal of time because once again the tears flowed. I couldn’t get out of my mind their strength, their attitude, and their sense of pure joy during this Christmas season. Once I managed to finish them, the letters from Santa were delivered to children in time for Christmas.

When answering letters to children who have gone through what these had, it is essential to stay upbeat and not refer to their ailments. I told them how lucky they were to have such well-trained doctors who dedicated their lives to helping, and nurses who cared for each one of them as if they were their own child. But I also made sure they were aware of the professional staff and all the volunteers at Ronald McDonald House of Northern Alberta. It’s a place where they can live with their families, play with other children, and where their parents can talk to and help other parents who live through life’s greatest fear. This is not only a temporary home but, to Santa Claus, a monument to love and care.

~Gordon Allen

Blind Bay, British Columbia

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