She sat on my lap and quickly made her wish.
“I want Rollerblades for Christmas,” she said.
I knew the neighborhood. It was full of busy streets, no place for an 8-year-old to skate.
“Now where in your neighborhood are you going to be able to wear Rollerblades?” I inquired.
She was speechless. And maybe that helped her believe in Santa Claus for one more year.
Being a mall Santa can be tough, though. I was at Midway for just one year. The lines stretched on forever, the babies screamed, and the toddlers squirmed. All anybody wanted was a picture. It seemed nobody cared about their child’s interaction with Santa.
After that, I took a job as a Santa at a strip mall in Bedford. Instead of families coming to see me, I went to see them, store by store.
This will be my second year at Kris Kringle’s Inventionasium. It’s my favorite gig as Santa. The families have private time, so it makes the experience more memorable. Because the Inventionasium is Kris Kringle’s toy workshop, I don’t wear the big red suit. I wear work clothes — soft, striped overalls.
On a typical day, I’ll visit with about 120 families — one after another after another. It’s exhausting, but I am re-invigorated by every fresh face that walks through the door. And I never get tired of listening to those wishes.
I know not all of them can be granted, and I can tell from parents’ signals when something is not in the cards. I don’t want those children to be crushed on Christmas morning, so I steer them toward something else.
I hear so many wishes that I forget a good many. There are those that stay with you, though, such as the one from a 6-year-old boy who sobbed in my arms last year.
“I just want a better life,” he said.
The Christmas cheer evaporated. I hugged him as tightly as I could, and then he was gone.
Still, the happy moments far outweigh the sad ones. Last year, a couple walked through my door without any kids in tow.
“What brings you to see Santa this year?” I asked.
She sat on my knee, and he knelt on one knee. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring. It was very charming.
I’ll also never forget Austin, who rolled into my office in a wheelchair. He really wanted to sit on my lap, so we hoisted him out of his chair, but he couldn’t sit up straight.
“I’m sorry, I can’t sit up,” he said, as if it were his fault. I grabbed his belt loop, hiked him up and nuzzled him into my chest. He started to tell me what he wanted for Christmas — all the while, his little fingers were working their way through my beard. It’s because of children like Austin that I’ve finally grown out my own beard. And even though I’m just 45 years old, it is as white as snow. I guess you could say I was destined for this role.
Anyway, Austin looked very closely at my beard and worked his fingers all the way around my jaw line. When his three minutes were up, he got in his wheelchair and left. On the way out, he told anyone who would listen that he had scientific proof I was the real Santa.
It’s that type of magic I am most happy to be part of.
— as told to Matt Tullis
in the cle
12:00 AM EST
November 17, 2009