Santa Bob has a new heart and will be listening to the secret wishes of children and adults for many years to come.
The question I am asked the most about being Santa is “What is the most unusual wish for a Christmas gift you have ever heard?” There have been many strange ones, and some that will melt your heart. Let’s start with some odd ones. One young man came to see Santa and very timidly approached the chair, very shy and withdrawn. After a little while he looked Santa in the eye and when asked what he wanted, he loudly stated he needed ten dollars and eighty three cents. To say Santa was perplexed was an understatement. I asked what in the world would he do with that exact amount of money? He never would give a reason but was insistent that he did not need any toys. Just $10.83.
Another peculiar request was from a young lady who could have passed for a child model, all bedecked in her Christmas dress, with pigtails in her hair, and a smile as innocent as the snow. She told Santa that she needed some dynamite for Christmas. I asked if I had heard her right:
“Dynamite, like to blow things up with? “Yes that kind of dynamite.” “Why would such a sweet girl want to blow things up?” “It would be fun to watch things explode.” The best part was that she explained that if she got bored and had any extra dynamite she could sell the surplus to the army people in Huntsville who were always blowing things up.
Sell it to the army, not donate it, sell it! Ho-ho-BOOM!
And about the eternal can-I-pull-you-beard question? My beard is all my own, but the color I owe to chemistry and a local hair salon. I spend nearly 6 weeks watching it progress from salt and pepper to brilliant white. You have never experienced pain until you have sat for an hour with peroxide on your face, burning your skin, fumes watering your eyes. After that, there are two months of shampooing, conditioning, flat ironing and all manner of other care to keep it perfect. One Christmas, it was all made worthwhile when a child popped into my lap and never asked for a single gift for Christmas. In fact she never spoke a word until she had run her fingers through my beard for a few seconds. Then she said, “It really is all snowy white.” It made all the torture of color treatments worth it. I told my stylist who makes it beautiful each year; she had received the highest compliment ever from this admirer of Santa’s whiskers.
I also enjoy getting requests from teenagers and adults about what they want for Christmas. With teenage girls, Santa usually asks if they might need a new boyfriend, because he knows these great guys that are kind of short, but very handy with tools, and they have these cute pointy shoes. This never fails to get a giggle or two from the girls. I often start conversations with adults something like this: “This isn’t about that missing easy bake oven or bicycle from when you were 7, is it?” It’s amazing how many people wanted those items at some point. Often Santa is asked about providing a new car for an adult, usually a Corvette or Ferrari. My answer is, “Which one would you like, Hot wheels or Matchbox?” Sometimes being Santa is often even more fun with grownups than children.
It can also be more heartbreaking when you hear wishes from the heart. Once at the Christmas tree farm, a lady in her 80s was being asked by her children and grandchildren to get a photo with Santa. After she agreed she actually whispered to me that this was going to be a very hard Christmas for her. She wished Santa could bring her husband back, as he had passed away just months earlier. She explained she knew that Santa couldn’t bring him back but she missed him so. Later, as she and her family were leaving, I called her daughter over and mentioned her mom’s Christmas wish. Mostly I wanted to make sure she would be with family and friends for the holidays and wouldn’t be by herself. Her daughter wasn’t aware that her mom was still taking it quite hard and thanked me for the information. I hope that wonderful lady had a happy holiday with her family.
At a corporate office party one Christmas, I was sitting by myself in a chair in a corner waiting for families to come over and take pictures. I wished I could mingle a bit and have some fun but was told specifically to sit in the chair and wait. I wasn’t really in a very nice Santa mood and wondered about being paid to sit in a corner and pose with half-drunken party goers. Out of the crowd wandered a nicely dressed gentleman and his wife. He approached me and asked if I could stand up for a photo with him while his wife readied the camera. He asked if I would shake hands with him in the photo. I shook his hand and wondered about what was going on.
As I sat back down he squatted down in front of me and explained that every year during the Christmas season he tried to find the most realistic looking Santa he could find with a real beard and a happy smile. He took this same photo each year and brought it home to his son who was 26 years old and living at home. He explained that the son had never developed mentally past that of an 8 or 10 year old. More than anything, his son loved Santa Claus, but felt embarrassed to go see him in person since he was so big. Every year dad took a picture to prove that he had met Santa in person and Santa told him that all his son’s presents that he had wished for all year were securely loaded onto the sleigh for delivery on Christmas Eve; the handshake part was where Santa had sealed the deal with dad. Upon seeing this picture, his son’s mind would be at ease and he would enjoy the rest of the holiday season waiting for the big day. After he left, I wiped away tears at the joy I had just taken part in with a simple handshake at an office party. The miracle of Santa.
Another highlight is Christmas with some special children in a program called Dance your Dreams at Merrimack Hall in Huntsville, Alabama. These kids have learning or physical disabilities that make it hard for them to fit into many of the everyday things lots of kids take for granted. Through this program, they get to spend time dancing and singing with special instructors. The highlight of the year is a Christmas program in early December. The first year of the show, I was asked to walk on stage at the end to surprise the children with a personal visit from Santa. I then stayed afterwards to provide pictures for parents and such. The year that I had my heart transplant, the show was written to include a visit to Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. I wrote a letter to the folks who run the Dance your Dreams program to explain how the kids were a huge motivation for me to get better, take all my meds and mostly, be Santa again.
The letter was printed in the show program and after the last show a young lady showed me what it meant to her. As I was sitting, posing for the last pictures a young girl came up and presented Santa with an ornament for his Christmas tree. Mom explained that they had told her after the previous night’s performance how Santa had been very sick that spring and had to have a whole new heart put in his chest just so he could still be here this Christmas. The young lady had traced her small hand on a white piece of construction paper then cut out a heart from some red paper. She had folded two of the fingers of the cutout hand down over the heart glued to the palm. She then explained that this was God’s hand holding onto Santa’s new heart. This is one of my favorite memories of my recovery from heart surgery and my best moment ever as Santa Claus. Seeing the love of children, and living in the wonder of miracles in this world, that’s what Christmas means to this Santa Claus.
The next time you are out bustling and hustling for those last minute presents and wondering if standing in line for 20 minutes at the checkout counter is really worth it, think about the last Santa Claus you saw. At the mall, ringing a bell in the cold for a charity, maybe even driving by you to get to that next photo op, maybe just sitting next to you having coffee at the fast food place, Santa can be found all over these days. Take a minute and remember that there is still good in this world. You just have to slow down and remember the wonder in a child’s eyes as they gaze at that red suit, that long snowy white beard, those rosy cheeks. Santa is magic…for all of us.
Photo courtesy of the author