I Am Santa Claus

In 1897, eight year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the New York Sun newspaper, asking if there was really a Santa Claus, saying that one could always believe what she read in the Sun.  Some of her friends had caused her to doubt Santa’s existence.  The editor’s reply became the most reprinted editorial in history.  (click here for editorial) To paraphrase it, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and I am he.”

St. Nicholas of Myra

I am Santa Claus, at least I have been him many times over the last 40-some years.  I lay no claim to be St. Nicholas of Myra, the 4th century bishop of Myra in Turkey whose legendary secret giving of gifts is said to be the basis of St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, St. Nick and Santa Claus.  (click here for more on St. Nicholas)  I am merely an agent of his, one who dons his attire to spread Christmas joy during the season.  Since all of us agents wear the same suit as the Big Guy, it confuses the Grinches and Scrooges as to who is the real Santa Claus.  My Santa story begins in 1976, when my parents gave me a Santa outfit for Christmas.  I’m not sure why and, alas, neither are on Earth any longer for me to ask.  Although I had never expressed a desire to become Santa, I had always been a big fan of Christmas.  My parents had loved Christmas as well, serving as my inspirations.  My passion for the season endured finding that Santa was the spirit of Christmas instead of the bearded guy in the department stores.  That must have been why they gave me the costume, to inspire me to keep the spirit of Christmas in my heart.  It worked.

The Bat Rod in 1976, Santa’s ride

The year they gave me the Santa suit, my wife and I started Christmas at my in-laws house in Westminster, CA, having stayed there for Christmas Eve night.  Since I had received the suit early, I wore it as I came down the stairs on Christmas morn.  Then I wore it as my wife and I drove up the 605 freeway and across I-10 to Claremont, where my parents lived.  I was driving the first Bat Rod, a ’73 Pontiac Trans Am, with the back seat filled with wrapped gifts.  I was in my new suit, beard and hat.  Cars would pass me, then suddenly slow to let me pass them.  Kids would be at their windows, wildly waving.  I returned the wave.  I got a big kick out of it.  I wonder how parents explained that Batman’s secret identity was Santa Claus.  Or was it vice versa?

Santa Claus now

My next fond Santa-suit memory is the next year when I wore it to the company Christmas party.  My wife’s parents had started a family business in the the 1950’s and my wife and I opened a second location in 1973.  By 1977, we had maybe ten employees there and held our party at one table in a local restaurant.  I came as Santa.  A couple of our drivers even sat on my knee, giving ludicrous Christmas wishes.  Then a waiter came over to me.  “There’s a little boy here who would like to meet Santa,” he said.  I went over and talked to him.  I did it as Santa, keeping in character.  The boy loved it and so did I.  I was hooked.

When my daughter was born, I had a whole new reason for putting on the suit: bringing the magic of Christmas to my child.  My wife’s parents never gave her a belief in Santa, so she considered it lying and feared that it would cause our child to doubt us on everything else when she found that Santa was a fantasy.  But on this I was adamant.  I cherished that memory and wanted it for my child.  I won.  Every year, I would don my red and white attire and come to the front door, jingling bells to imitate my reindeer’s approach.  I would bring a few gifts, promising to return later with more.  One Christmas Eve, the dreaded moment happened.  After I left through the front door and sneaked through the garage to a back room of the house to change, my daughter caught me.  She had a feeling that I was Santa and had gone through the house to find out if she were right.  I was as devastated as she was that the fantasy was over.  After a few tearful moments, she asked, “Will you still come on Christmas as Santa?”  When I assured her that I would, she cheered up.  Some of the magic would continue.

Christmas 1999 with Fionna and our daughter. We had recently returned to the States and our furniture had only arrived two days before.  Note the boxes.

My most memorable Santa event was in 1990.  For some time, our daughter had wanted a dog.  But a dog is a big responsibility, a life that becomes your obligation to care for and nurture.  My wife was loathe to bring in a canine member to the family, having lost her only dog when it was hit by a car when she was very young.  But finally we decided that it was time.  However, we gave no indication to our daughter.  Instead, we secretly bought a Sheltie puppy and set up to deliver it on Christmas Eve.  Santa came through the front door with the puppy tucked under his arm.  Our daughter broke into tears, sobbing with joy.  Several family members watching teared up as well.  We have it all recorded.  It was Santa’s big day.  Our daughter has said it was the best Christmas gift she ever received.  She named the Sheltie Fionna.

I continued to be Santa, making appearances for my your great-nieces.  When we moved to the Isle of Man in 1994, Fionna and the Santa suit went as well.  However, the suit stayed in a box in a closet. Father Christmas looks a lot different in the British Isles than the American Santa Claus.  When we moved back to the States, the box with the Santa suit and some other items was lost.  Perhaps someone needed it more than I.  If so, maybe it continued to make appearances without me.

Santa in a 1948 Van Pelt fire truck

In 2003, my wife surprised me with a new Santa suit.  The old one had not been expensive and I had added a new wig, beard and hat to make it better.  The new one was  very classy.  It also had an upgraded beard and wig, so it was top notch all the way.  A local car club in which I am a member has had an annual toy drive for decades and so I took up the job of the Santa for it.  At first, I stood around and waved at people.  Soon I had children to meet and greet with a candy cane.  Now I sit and hear what they want for Christmas.  I arrive at the parking lot where the toy drive takes place in an antique fire truck, going through town in an unofficial parade, followed by as many as 50 classic cars and hot rods,  The local police have become steadily more cooperative over the years, escorting us and blocking side streets on the way, so that we can all stay together.  It is quite a sight.  I enjoy waving at everyone as we go.  I make it a point to wave to everyone I see.   Young women are very enthusiastic, while young men are the least responsive. Yet very few do not return the wave.

Santa with a young fan

As Santa, I have made some observations over the years.  While most kids enjoy seeing Santa, especially if he gives them a candy cane, the age of belief in Santa seems to stop at about six.  Considering what is shown on TV, it’s surprising that their belief lasts that long.  About every TV show and movie has Santa pull down his beard at some point.  Writers and directors evidently think this witty.  I consider it witless.  Why do it?  To destroy a child’s fantasy?  When I am dressed as Santa, I stay in character.  I never pull down my beard or do anything else that might adversely affect a child’s belief.  I take my role very seriously.  I eat nothing and only drink water through a straw the entire time I am Santa.  When a child tells me what they want for Christmas, I make no promises.  If I did and they didn’t get the gift, what would they think of Santa?  If they want a puppy or some other pet (yes, I have been asked for a pony), I say that it’s a big responsibility and they should speak with their parents first.  The kids accept that, since Santa is the Man.  This year, a little boy asked for a laser tag set.  His mother was shaking her head behind him.  I said, “That can be dangerous,  Why not wait a few years and ask me then?”  He shrugged and said, “Okay.”  I think a high point as the toy drive Santa was when a lad talked to me for a while, then asked, “Are you the real Santa?”  I never lie to the kids, so I asked him, “What do you think?”  He studied me, then answered, “I’m not sure.”  I had done my job.

Yes, I am Santa.  At least for a few days a year.





Murder in the Foothills

My latest book, The St. Nicholas Murders, is now available on Amazon.  It’s a bit of murder in the Foothills for Christmas.  The book is a cozy mystery, meaning there is no foul language, explicit sex or graphic violence.  Something to read in your rocker with a nice fire in the fireplace on a cold night.  Cozy, right?  It starts just before the Kirkin’ of the Tartan service at Father Robert Bruce’s church, St. Nicholas of Myra Episcopal Church in Buggy Springs, a small town in the Sierra Nevada Foothills.  It ends on Christmas Day.  I filled it with characters and places inspired by living in a small town in the Sierra Nevada Foothills for 19 years.  It is fiction, but fiction should come from real life.  For a sampling of the book, click here. If you like what you read here, click on the Amazon link on the sidebar.  If you don’t like what you read, then don’t click.  It’s your choice, but I hope that you will give Father Robert a chance.

I believe in Santa Claus

Doubting the existence of Santa is not new.  On September 21, 1897, the editor of The New York Sun newspaper published a reply to a letter from a an 8 year-old girl that has become a classic.  In it, he gives that famous line, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  Now I am here to say, “I believe in Santa Claus.”  (click here for the entire article)  He also wrote, “The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.”  Maybe part of the reason is that I am Santa Claus, to give the children a Santa to see.  Well, not all year, but a few special occasions each year.  But more on that later.  Let’s talk a little about who Santa Claus is.

St. Nicholas of Myrna

St. Nicholas of Myra with a white beard and the red attire of a bishop

Being in love with history, I am compelled to give a little history of the old fellow.  The name Santa Claus is derived from the Dutch Sinterklaas (click here for more), a red-cloaked bishop with white hair and beard who brings gifts to good children on the eve of St. Nicholas’ Day, December 6th.  His name comes from Saint Nicholas, the Greek Bishop of Myra (now in Turkey), who was known for his generosity (click here for more).  Early on, gifts were given to children in some countries on St. Nicholas Day, not on Christmas Day.  From Jolly Olde England came Father Christmas.  As early as the 1400’s, King Christmas would ride in the Christmas festival on a decorated horse.  Remember, Christmas trees were not a part of the English Christmas celebration until German Prince Albert brought them across the Channel when he married Queen Victoria (although they had been a part of the Royal Family’s since the time of George III), so decorating a horse had to do.  Over time, he also became known as Father Christmas, an old man in a long, fur-trimmed cloak.  However, King Christmas was known for bringing fine food and drink to the Christmas celebration, lots of it, rather than toys for children.

Father Christmas

Father Christmas

When the Puritans took control of England in the mid-17th century and banned the celebration of holidays, originally Holy Days, by anything but church attendance, Father Christmas was a casualty.  He also became a cause célèbre for the Royalists who longed for a return to the wilder, less restrictive days of the Stuart kings.  After the Restoration, when Charles II regained the throne, poor Father Christmas had served his purpose and was almost forgotten.  However, in the Victorian Age, he returned to prominence as the spirit of Christmas.  In fact, the Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a version of Father Christmas, dispensing Christmas cheer from his torch.  Check out the movie version with George C. Scott for a great example of how he looked to the English of that era (more on that and other versions of the movie here). But how did he join with Sinterklaas to become Santa Claus?  That’s an American tale.

Thomas Nast's Santa Claus

Thomas Nast’s 1881 Santa Claus

When Clement Moore’s (click here for author dispute)  “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (also known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) was published in 1823, it created much of the mythos.  (click here for the entire poem)  This was the first time we have a sleigh with the reindeer numerated and named.  St. Nicholas is dressed in fur (not red, though) and comes down the chimney to fill stockings.  While much of this is in the Dutch tradition, he does his good work on Christmas Eve or early that morning, not on St. Nicholas Day!  Next came Thomas Nast’s drawings that appeared in Harper’s Weekly from 1863 through 1886.   Nast is best known for creating the elephant as the symbol of the Republican Party and the donkey for the Democrats, but also did Santa.  His elaborate drawing of “Santa Claus and His Works,” was included in an 1869 printing of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and gave Santa his now-traditional red attire.  St. Nicholas had become Santa Claus.  Nast also gave us Santa’s home in the North Pole that he termed “Santa Claussville, N.P.”  and evolved Santa from a short elf into a full-grown man.  The drawing of Santa he did in 1881 is much like the current standard concept of Santa, except for the politically incorrect pipe.  Thank you, Thomas, for giving us our Santa.

Santa and Coca Cola

Santa and Coca Cola

In the movie “Miracle on 34th Street,” the young Alfred says, “there’s a lot of bad ‘isms’ floatin’ around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism.”  Yet, it is a commercial ad campaign that refined our image of Santa Claus.  Nast’s Santa looks dated to us now, too 19th century.  It was Coca Cola that gave us the 20th century version that we still identify as the real Santa.  Although Coca Cola began using Santa in its ad campaigns in the 1920’s, it was Haddon Sundblom who drew the ones in the 1930’s until the 1960’s that we now consider the real Santa.  Since Santa didn’t and wouldn’t get any residuals from his images, the jolly old elf was the perfect promoter for Coke.  Still, we do get to enjoy the art and Haddon’s images are our image of Santa to this day, so that wasn’t all bad.  (click here for the Coca Cola Santa story)

Santa and a believer at the Roamin Angel Toy Drive in 2015

Santa Claus and a true believer                                  at the Roamin Angel Toy Drive in 2015

So what about me being Santa?  I believed in Santa as a child.  When I found that he was my dad, it didn’t damage my psyche.  I appreciated the magic that my parents gave me at Christmas, how they made the holiday even more special.  Since Christmas is about God’s gift of his Son as a child to mankind, isn’t there something appropriate about having a saint’s namesake bring gifts to children?  Even the idea of naughty and nice lists teaches accountability for our actions. I still believe in Santa.  In the mid-1970’s, my parents gave me a Santa suit for Christmas.  It was not an expensive one and they did so more as a joke, but it began a change in my life.  I wore it to our towing company Christmas party at a local restaurant, kidding around with the office staff and the drivers.  One of the drivers was sitting on my knee, telling me what he wanted for Christmas, when a waiter came up and told me a little boy would like to talk to Santa.  I went over to his table and took him on my knee.  As he told me of his Christmas wishes, it all changed.  It was no longer a joke.  I was taking on the mantle.  Since then, I have been Santa for many children, including my own daughter.  I only hope I have given as much joy to them as they have given to me.

Santa MacClaus and Mikey MacElf ring that bell.

Santa MacClaus and Mikey MacElf ring that bell.

I have also appeared as Santa MacClaus, ringing the bell for the Salvation Army at Christmas.  The response has been great.  Seeing people laugh at the Scottish Santa and contribute to help others at Christmas is wonderful.  Having the kids, eyes going wide to see Santa in a kilt, is hilarious.  Interestingly, none of the kids have a problem with that,  Santa is Santa no matter what.  And the cause is great for Claus.  All the money we raise goes to help others in our local community, whether it be for toys and clothes at Christmas or to keep the homeless from freezing to death in cold weather, it’s worth a little of my time.  Plus I love being Santa, bringing joy where I can.  I will keep doing it as long as I am able.  After all, I believe in Santa.