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“RESPECT THE SUIT”

I haven’t been doing the Santa thing long. Only my second year this year. How I fell into it happened rather quickly – an old friend, who is the administrator at a local church, called me mid-December last year. Their Santa cancelled at the last minute and would I fill in? At first I was reluctant. I’m no angel and definitely no Santa. But she was persuasive. Finally, sure! Why not. I’m a big personality, a big guy – wouldn’t need much padding. It’d be a hoot! Ho-ho-ho and all that muckity-muck. I

went and picked up a borrowed suit, which breathed about as well as a hardboiled egg. Then I tried the wig and beard that came with it, nearly choking to death with each rambling nylon strand breathed in. So, being rather furry faced that I am, I went down to DC Theatricks and tried some beard white. That came out pretty well. I found an old, small, pair of my glasses with my old prescription and they worked too. I put the whole thing together and glanced in the mirror.

What I saw astounded me! I was Santa Claus! In reality it kinda’ freaked me out, at first. I suddenly felt deeply uneasy and burden laden. I couldn’t figure out why, not until my first encounter with a kid. That’s when I realized how much obligation comes with being Santa, with putting on ‘The Suit’. 

When I arrived at the church and was introduced to the children, I experienced something so wondrous, so moving, and yet so terrifying, I almost turned and fled. Looking upon me were dozens of little eyes, so wide and so open, and so sparkling with utter amazement. It’s as if, for these tiny people, time had stopped and everything that mattered in their little worlds was standing before them.

I was led to a rather regal seat and, one by one, these diminutive tots were brought to me where, upon my lap, they whispered their deepest hopes for the holiday into my ear with voices so soft and quiet it reminded me of a night wind. And those wants were so simple, so beautiful, so innocent. And I, I was the personification of those wishes; I was complete promise in red plush. Even a little boy I know well didn’t recognize me – he couldn’t see, or chose not to see, beyond the suit. So suspended in the magic he was. I was given a few more opportunities to be Santa during the season and they were all very wonderful and special and fed my heart so deeply. That, and, man, it was so much fun! I mean, yes, Virginia, it was a hoot to be Santa Claus. Like a child myself, I couldn’t wait for the next Christmas to come and to do it all again!

And, now, here it is. You know, I’m a realist trapped in the heart of an idealist. I work in a field that is rife with heartache, but wholly dependent on hope – addiction. I’ve seen so much sorrow and death. But I’ve also seen so much joy and love and resurrection. But nothing, nothing compares to what I see in the heart of a child standing before a Santa they still want to, need to, and do, believe in.

There’s something really quite magical that happens when I put on ‘The Suit’. I am powerful! Not in a Captain America/Avengers kind of way. Not in a stern teacher kind of way. Not even in a mom/dad kind of way. Yet, it’s sort of a combination of all the above! I am accorded a true and profound power. I’m granted the power of belief. I have suddenly been put in charge of magic and faith. If you could only see what I see when a child glances up and gazing not at me, but at the wonderful, mythical jolly ol’ St. Nick I’ve become… and the thousand years of whimsical tales that come with him. I represent, to that child, the embodiment of story – a tale as old and as broad as any we humans have ever concocted.

Then there was another realization – one of responsibility. When I put on ‘The Suit’ I have an obligation to what it represents. Being in charge of magic and wonder requires respect, respect of tradition. I can’t besmirch the myth, even in the slightest, as, for that moment, I am its caretaker. I can’t smell like my beloved Lucky Strikes. I can’t get caught without the beard, or bellowing bad language as I am likely to do all too often. I must, must be that marvel as best as I can simply because that wonder doesn’t last forever. And that is both the best part and the saddest part – that somewhere along the way our faith, our wonder, is replaced by cold, hard fact. And the difficulty that is life. So I just have to do it right. I have to somehow nurture that tiny spark in those tiny people, protecting it for as long as I can.

Am I taking this too seriously? Maybe. But I don’t care. I have played many, many roles in this life, as we all do. But none evoke so much love and joy as Santa. And, right now, in this time, and in this world, we need as much of that… good stuff as we can get.

This year, with the help of many dear friends, I have acquired an amazing suit. My beard isn’t as long as I’d like, but I’ll manage – plenty of white out on hand. As a volunteer, I’ll go to a number of places, and events (including the church it all started for me last year) and I will try to make Christmas special for as many as I can. That’s my Christmas gift to them – and to myself.

Yesterday one of the participants at my gig was talking about seeing a Santa at Burger King. He was talking about how this guy was in the suit, but without a beard. He said, “What if some kid had seen that?” Really, what if some kid had? We have so few opportunities to create magic anymore. When we do we have to do it carefully, with great gentleness and with complete regard. So, to any prospective Santa Claus’ out there, anyone who thinks the SantaCon is cool or likes to make the office party laugh, fine. I wish you all the fun. But to those that don the gear for the little ones, I offer this one piece of advice: ALWAYS respect ‘The Suit’.

Written by Jeff Wilber

Jeff Wilber

Jeff Wilber has written FOR the stage, screen, page and ON many a bathroom wall. He currently works as a drug and alcohol peer advocate and lives on the Westside with his incredibly patient wife and a bevy of incredibly impatient rescued furry beasts.

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