49: Stealth Santa

49: Stealth Santa

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

Stealth Santa

Never forget that it is the spirit with which you endow your work that makes it useful or futile.

~Adelaide Hasse

It was December and my first year at college. As it should happen, I was patrolling the campus dressed as Santa Claus, and what a fine embodiment of Santa Claus I represented. I was the Saint Nicholas to stand above all Saint Nicholases. When I spoke, my voice boomed from one block to another. My “HO HO HO” rumbled through my entire body, exploding from my bushy beard in a voice that could defy thunder. And when I called for the reindeer, people two dormitories over would look to the sky expecting a flight of hoofed caribou to cascade down to Earth. Naturally, it only took me about thirty minutes before I was intercepted by the police.

I was heading south on Indiana Street. The police car was coming north. It passed me, slowed down, and stopped. An overwhelming sensation of doom came over me.

I can only imagine what the officer had called in on his radio. “Man in giant red suit with oversize beard; looks like he stuffed a turkey under his outfit.”

I thought about offering him a candy cane from the satchel I was carrying, but was concerned that would be grounds for him to draw his gun on me. These are things you have to consider when dressed as Santa.

Instead I simply greeted him with one of my ground-rumbling “HO HO HOs” followed by “Merry Christmas.”

He ignored the greeting and asked what I was doing.

I felt that “Pretending to be Santa” was overstating the obvious, but I’m not sure what else he was looking for. I went for safe ground: “Trying to spread a little holiday cheer and Christmas spirit around campus,” I told him in a voice that would have caused a tyrannosaurus to tremble. “Would you like a candy cane?” I asked, pulling one out. I decided to take my chances with the gun.

The man did not tremble. Nor did he warm to my offering of treats. He shrugged off the peppermint crook with a dismissive hand gesture. “Are you a student here?” he asked instead.

I didn’t have a good Santa response for this one. “I am,” I said simply. The words stuck like dried cotton to the air in front of me.

“Can I see your student ID?”

Sadly, my pants were without pockets, but I had thought ahead to wear a pair of workout shorts underneath them and had stashed my ID in these. My reason for doing so was because the ID was needed to get into buildings on campus, not so much because I expected someone to question Santa’s authenticity. The picture did not match the beard, potbelly, or the abundance of red I had donned, but he seemed to accept it. He looked up the name on a computer in his car and then traced it in a large binder he had on the passenger seat before returning it.

He seemed satisfied and thanked me. I wished him a “happy holidays,” but it felt stilted. Apparently his black book did not say to shoot me on sight. Nor did it say to give me metal bracelets for Christmas. It’s good to know Santa is respected by the law.

I watched the policeman drive off while overhead clouds moved slowly across the sky and the moon waned peacefully in its solitude. I shivered. It was cold and my suit only provided limited insulation.

About an hour later I had managed to edge my way onto the third floor of a college dorm, joining a holiday party in progress. I had been there for perhaps fifteen minutes when someone tapped me on my arm. “I think there are some people here for you,” the tapper said. Had some female shown up dressed as an elf? A sexy elf? The messenger seemed a little too grave in his delivery for it to be a sexy elf, but who else would be requesting Santa’s presence?

I turned around and found the police officer from earlier that night standing by the stairs. He was accompanied by a second officer. They were pretty far removed from being sexy elves. Both of them were somber, and when the first officer saw me looking at them, he motioned me over with a gloved index finger.

Unless I wanted to try my luck at jumping through a window, I was probably going to be having a second conversation with the police. “We’ve been getting calls,” the second officer explained. “People are concerned because they’ve seen a figure dressed as Santa walking around campus.”

“They think you might try and mug someone,” the first officer continued. “The problem is primarily with your face being covered.”

My heart shattered. Where is the heart and soul of Santa? Does it reside in the potbelly that bulges and shakes? Does it come from his black boots with golden buckles? Is it in his white-gloved hands? No. The spirit is in the snow-white beard, the large red hat, the smile and curl of the mustache. There are thousands of greeting cards with only Santa’s face depicted on them, laughing gaily. I don’t think I’ve seen a single Hallmark card featuring Santa’s torso.

“Perhaps I should call it a night,” I told them in a cool voice. I did not put any of my former mirth into it.

“That’d probably be a good idea,” the first officer told me.

Dejected, I left, pulling the beard and hat from my face as I went. The two police officers followed. I don’t know if they made sure I returned to my own dormitory or not. I didn’t pay much attention. Now I was just some kid dressed up in a red suit.

I got back to my room and stripped off the costume and hung it up. I could have let this end my holiday career. I could have accepted the wave of dejection and finished the holidays as a studious, reserved college kid.

But I didn’t.

The police may not have known it, but they had broken a crusading Santa of mirth and warmth and let rise from the ashes a Santa of stealth. From then on, late in the evening without expecting it, students across campus might hear the loud echo of my laugh, or my declaration of good tidings. But by the time any law enforcement showed up I’d be gone, spreading my cheer at another location. I was Santa and neither the law nor the skeptical campus denizens could change that. They could provide deterrents, but ultimately my spirit, and my faith in spreading that spirit, were unbreakable.

~Rob Snyder

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