Published in The Great North Arrow, December 2019: Being Santa

 jim Young

“Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.” - Janice Maeditere

I am Santa Claus.

I feel like I’m bragging when I say that and in a way I guess I am. It is a great privilege for me to be able to say “I am Santa”.

In the movie “The Santa Clause” Scott Calvin, played by Tim Allen took over the role of Santa Claus almost overnight. All he had to do was put on the coat of the previous Santa. After his first Christmas as Santa, Scott then had just one year to get his affairs in order to become the “real” Santa.

But that was just a movie.

In real life, the ascent to this position of privilege is a process of evolution that takes a much longer period of time.

Like every other child, I adored Santa Claus and looked forward to his annual Christmas visits. 

My mother was largely responsible for keeping Santa alive for us for so many years. She was the Spirit of Christmas in my world. Well into her 80s my mother continued to buy gifts for all of her children and their spouses, every one of her grandchildren and their spouses and her many other great-grandchildren, as well as her brothers and sister and many of her friends.

Anyone of any age who spent the night at Mom’s house on Christmas Eve could expect to find a full stocking from Santa hanging on the fireplace on Christmas morning.

When I had young children of my own I was well prepared to accept the responsibility as a surrogate Santa as most parents do. How was I to know that this was really just the beginning of my apprenticeship?

Level II of my apprenticeship began shortly after.

Coming from a large family, my sisters, along with our spouses and children, returned to our family home one weekend each December to celebrate Christmas with our parents.

One year as our children were getting older, we decided the gift exchange we were all participating in was becoming too much so we made a mutual decision that we would exchange just good cheer and memories instead.

Something about that just didn’t feel right to me however. I believed everyone should have at least one small present to open at our Christmas party, so I began preparing a small hand made gift for all.

It became a new family tradition.

The gifts were never extravagant. Some years they were simply photo copies of a few pages from a colouring book to keep the children occupied while the parents might receive a key chain. It was more about having a present to open than it was about the gift itself.

When the children became adults with children of their own, my nephew Kory decided he wanted to become one of Santa’s elves and together, each Christmas, we began to collaborate on projects trying to outdo our previous year’s gift to the family.

By now, I was sporting a beard and my hair was gradually turning white. My belly was also starting to fill out as I was physically morphing into the character I would one day become.

When my wife Shirley and I vacationed in the Caribbean, more and more people were starting to recognize me as, and call me Santa; but the first premonition that I was to become the “real” Santa came in 2013.

In December of 2013 Shirley and I visited the Bradford Greenhouse in Barrie to purchase our Christmas Tree. After we had picked out our tree, we went to pay for it while they gave the stump a fresh cut and bundled it up for us. 

As we walked to the cashier past the Christmas Tree pickup area, we noticed the other trees, already wrapped, had tags hanging on them with the customer’s last name.

“The employee didn’t ask us our name,” I told Shirley, “they won’t know which one is ours.”

When we arrived at the pickup door after paying for the tree - one of the employees asked our last name. Shirley told them it was "Young" and explained that the employee who helped us pick it out did not know that. 

The employee that was in charge of loading our tree into our vehicle kept checking all the tags until he found one. He turned to me and said, “This must be it.”

He showed us the tag on our tree that simply read "Santa".

In August of 2014, the transition became complete. I received a phone call from the owner of the company I was employed at, to come to his office.

This was seldom good news. I entered Steve’s office wondering what was up.

“I called you here,” Steve began as I took a seat in the chair in front of his desk, “because I wanted to give you a heads up. I have given your contact information to the Barrie Chamber of Commerce. They need a Santa for the Santa Claus Parade this year and I have recommended you - if you are interested.”

We talked for a bit and I told Steve something like this had long been a dream of mine. As I got up to leave Steve told me, “I just wanted to give you a heads up so you don’t go out and get your hair or beard cut before the Chamber has had a chance to discuss it with you.”

I thanked Steve for the recommendation and turned to leave. As I shut his office door behind me, it occured to me then that this was the first time in all the many years I had been in the workforce that one of my bosses had ever asked me not to cut my hair.

The rest, as they say, is history. My apprenticeship was finished, my transition complete and I had become the real Santa Claus.

At least that’s what it felt like the moment I first sat in the sleigh and took the reindeer reins for the Santa Claus Parade.

Since then I have ridden in the Barrie Chamber of Commerce Santa Claus Parade six times. This year will mark the third time riding in the Argyle Lion’s Club Santa Claus Parade. 

I have posed for photos with children and pets hundreds of times. I like to joke that I prefer posing with pets over children because I don’t get bitten or peed upon as often.

I have been invited to visit both adults and children at corporate parties as well as private home parties. Sometimes young children are a little shy about sitting on Santa’s knee for a photo, but then again, sometimes the adults are a little shy as well. 

I tell them that “no one is too old to sit on Santa’s lap”. 

Being Santa is a thrill that is difficult to describe, but the biggest thrill for me occurred during the 2015 Barrie Santa Claus Parade.

As I sat in my sleigh I looked down on the street and saw my sisters had brought my 87 year old mother out into the cold to see the parade. I waved to her sitting there in a wheelchair with a blanket wrapped around her to help keep her warm.

None of us knew at the time that this was to be my mother’s last Christmas.

My mother was talking to a young boy that had come to the parade. Sitting in her wheelchair, he was the only one around her that was at her level and easy to talk to.

Later, when I asked my mother what she said to the boy she told me this. “I asked him if I could let him in on a little secret.” When the young boy asked Mom what the secret was, my mother replied, “Santa is my son.”

The young boy grinned. His expression told my mother that he wasn’t sure if she was pulling his leg or not. Mom smiled back and with a very Santa-like twinkle in her eye just slightly nodded her head before they both turned their attention back to the parade. 

And so, a Merry Christmas to all… and to all a goodnight!

- 30 -


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