Few jobs may be as heartwarming while simultaneously tugging at your heart strings than that of dressing up like jolly old St. Nick and wading into a crowd of wide-eyed toddlers.
In my limited recent experience donning a Santa suit for a half dozen classes at my 3-year-old daughter’s dance school, most of the kids were excited to see me, generous with the hugs, and happy to pose for a photo. But there were a couple who cried, and there’s a feeling of powerlessness that washes over you when you realize there’s nothing you can do to stop the tears you caused. Of course, my experience is nothing compared to the professional mall Santas that do this for money all season long.
“The children were asking not for toys,” one of the Kris Kringles working Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City told me the year after Superstorm Sandy hit. “They were asking for homes, heat and light.”
It’s not only kids with heavy hearts who sometimes land in Santa’s lap. The terminally ill and those grieving a loss are among those who turn to Father Christmas looking for a reason to believe.
His reply? “I’ll see what I can do.”
The endless supply of hugs ease the tough days. But the uplifting moments often outnumber the heart-wrenching visits for the pros.
“I’ve … had three different couples get engaged while sitting on my lap,” a Santa at Hicks Nurseries in Westbury recently told the Press.
My run in the big red suit and beard — not counting a few times attending SantaCon in New York City a decade ago before it became Public Enemy No. 1 — was not quite as eventful, but gave a much-needed boost of holiday spirit nonetheless. Getting the suit on right was the hardest part. And it’s somewhat comforting to know my beard isn’t quite gray enough yet to not have to use the fake one.
A dissonant blend of The Chipmunks’ “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock,” and the screams of excited children filled the air in the supply closet where I suited up and waited to be summoned into one of three classrooms full of young children waiting to meet Santa.
Once I got my cue — such as a chorus chanting Santa’s name — the task proved to be the easiest acting gig ever. Just jingle some bells, yell “ho, ho, ho,” tell the kids Merry Christmas, ask them if they’ve been good, and hand out a few toys with the help of some cheerful elves.
A rare curve ball came my way when one of the kids — a girl whose holiday spirit rivaled that of Cindy Lou Who — asked me about her Elf on The Shelf. She was slightly older than the rest of the group, so I feared she was at the age where she was testing Santa to see if he’s real. I braced for her to quiz me on her elf’s name and tried to figure out a safe response. Thankfully, her inquiry turned into a harmless story about a gift her elf had brought her.
It was a close call, but it got a little hotter in that Santa suit for a moment. I survived my stint as Santa without shattering any kids’ dreams.
“Santa’s job is just to get a smile,” the wise Santa at Roosevelt Field Mall told me back in 2013. “When they start doubting, I say to the children: If you don’t believe in Santa Claus, think of all the fun that you are missing!”