There was a time when I was Santa Claus – or at least I played him, for six years… Back when I was in High School I was approached by my manager at the local drugstore I worked at and was asked to play Santa. At first I thought it was insulting, thinking that my pudgy frame was her reasoning for asking me. I remember thinking that I did not want to do it, after all how can someone who is only 17 and a Junior in High School pull off being Santa? After mulling it over for about a day, I told my manager that I would do it and she was elated. She immediately took me to the storage area and showed me the costume… It looked exactly like what you would think a local drugstore’s 20 year old, bottom of the line, made in China Santa suit would look like. I was taken aback when I saw it and told her there was no way I could do it. The costume consisted of a felt red “jacket”, pants and a black vinyl belt held together with staples and scotch tape. The beard was literally made out of cotton, and had brown stains around the mouth from where the previous “Santa” had apparently enjoyed one of many smoke breaks. The wig was made of the same cotton-like material and had the stains of 20 years worth of perspiration inside it. To say this costume was terrible was an understatement, but it was all I had to work with so I went with it.
I remember putting on the costume for the first time and walking out of the store room and entering the store. I bellowed the heartiest and happiest “Ho Ho Ho’s” that I could – trying to mask my young voice with guttural growl that made me sound more like Batman than Santa. I recall walking around and having people laugh at me due to the ridiculousness of the cheap costume. At the same time I also recall parents commenting on my dedication to bellow out those hearty Ho Ho Ho’s and give it my best. After some time I really started to get into the role and refined my “Santa Voice”, trading the growl for a trembling vibrato that seemed to hit the mark and matched my hearty Ho Ho Ho’s. For the two days that I played him, I was Santa and I loved it – and so did everyone else.
My manager got so many positive comments about my Santa that she asked me to promise to do it again the next year, and I happily obliged – with some conditions. Being the diva that I now was, I demanded upgrades to Santa’s suit, claiming that it would only help. She told me the budget did not allow it, but she would see what she could do. Some days later she told me that central office had agreed to get me a new wig and beard, but that was it. I still had to deal with the costume. The next christmas came and I played Santa again – this time a bit more convincingly with a beard and wig that was more like hair and less like the end of a cotton swab. I continued to play Santa over the next few years, with each year finding the store making more improvements to the suit until it became the perfect suit. Armed with a new suit, I really took hold of the role and I would walk up and down the strip mall and out to the road in front of our store and “let loose”.
I looked forward to playing Santa every year and it just felt so good to be dressed as someone that everyone loved. The smiles I saw on children’s faces made the stifling heat of the costume easy to bear. The gratitude from thankful Mom’s and Dad’s who appreciated my enthusiasm fueled me desire to be the best Santa I could be. It was great, but the inevitable time where I had to hang up my Santa suit came two years after college when I started teaching. I remember going back to the store that first year and seeing the “New” Santa and I was so upset. Gone were the Ho Ho Ho’s from my iteration, replaced with unenthusiastic “Happy Holiday’s” and not much more. It was disheartening to see the legacy I had built get torn down and thrown to the side. I felt bad for the children who were expecting to see the Santa that was there for six years and were greeted instead with a seemingly soul-less Mecha-Santa. I figured that would be the last time I ever played Santa and resigned myself to accepting that there are some things I just cannot control. Oh well, I’ll never be Santa again, I thought, it was a good run.
It turns out I was wrong. I did get to play Santa again, but in a way that my 23 year old self would never have imagined… Three months ago Samantha asked me if we could do something that would mark Rees’ third birthday and also do something for others. Since we did not have Rees to shower with toys and playthings, she rationed that it would be great if we got some toys to donate to a local charity that needed them. She asked around and found the Family Services League and was excited about the prospect of trying to help them with their annual “Project Toy”, toy drive. She explained to me that we would collect some toys and give them to the league and that on Rees’ birthday we would help out with the distribution to the families who were in need of a little Christmas help. Sam asked me to make up flyers, and I did, using our new logo I placed a sleigh with toys behind it and thus our Toy drive had an official image.
I never could have imagined the success we would have in this drive. What started out as a simple request for people to donate toys at 1 of 2 locations quickly grew into three times as many drop off spots and multiple other “mini drops”. When all was said and done, our “few” toys burgeoned into the thousands and we literally did not have enough space in our cars to deliver the toys… (Santa’s magic bag would have been a big help!). Needless to say, we got the help we needed and delivered the literal mound of toys three nights before the distribution and I was in awe of what the collective kindness of people. I literally saw what the collective acts of individuals could do when we all work together towards a common goal and it was both inspiring and amazingly rewarding. Every toy that was donated from ReesSpecht Life was donated because of the legacy of kindness of our little boy. It is clear that Rees’ pieces are a force of good that will hopefully continue to grow and do more and more collective good. It is clear that we are all making a difference, one little piece at a time.
Tonight found me in a different position than three nights ago. We were asked by the family service league to come and see how their toy distribution works – and we thought that Rees’ birthday was the ideal time to do it. What better way to help us focus on the positive than to directly see the results of the kindness performed in his name? While we were not there for long, I was in awe of the feeling of compassion and respect that permeated the family service league “Toyland” tonight. Parents from all walks of life, who found themselves in the unfortunate position of not being able to provide their children now had the opportunity to provide a christmas for their children through the selflessness of strangers that they will never know or meet. I saw first hand the grateful smiles of parents who reveled in finding that perfect gift that would make their children’s eyes light up with a sense of holiday wonder. It was at that moment, in that singular place in time, that I realized that I only played Santa for those six years. Tonight was my first time being “Santa” for real, and the feeling I derived from it is indescribable. I watched my two daughters help the shopping parents find the perfect toys and I was in awe of their willingness to help others – and I reveled in thought that Rees was present, smiling down on all of us in that room.
We were told that the donation of toys we made was one of the largest, if not the largest, single donations they had ever received. More importantly, I was told that because of the contribution of ReesSpecht Life, the family service league of Brookhaven would be able to get toys to all 1150 families in need plus all of the families on the stand by list. On a night that could have been much more difficult and sad, I was able to revel in the kindness of strangers and happiness of those whose holiday dreams had been salvaged. Instead of lamenting the loss of my little boy and grieving about his absence on what should have been his very happy 3rd birthday, I got to see what Santa see’s when he stealthily places those presents under the Christmas tree on Christmas eve. I saw, in my mind’s eye, at least a thousand children’s smiles on Christmas morning – and one very special little boy looking down on them, smiling himself, knowing that he helped them in his own way. Happy Birthday, and Merry Christmas little man. You helped me be Santa again, only this time for real. I love you more than words can express… keep cultivating that kindness from above. You are making this world a better place, one little piece at a time.