Everyone knows there is only one Santa. He’s got a tough enough job as it is deciding who’s been naughty and nice and then delivering presents accordingly, all over the world. As such, he doesn’t have a lot of free time to make public appearances.
Kids learn at a very young age when they take pictures at the mall with Santa that he’s not the real Santa Claus. He’s just a helper collecting your information and passing it on to the Big Man.
But what if Santa shows up on Christmas Eve?
Traditionally, we spent Christmas Eve with my wife’s family, as my brother did with his in-laws. That meant a gaggle of nieces and nephews waiting for Santa. Not one to disappoint them, I would don the red suit, white beard and black boots, making a surprise visit as good ole St. Nick.
I picked up a nice Santa suit for that first appearance at grandma’s house with the traditional oversized red top and bottom, adorned with white trim. There was plenty of room to stuff in a pillow and then tie it all together with a wide black belt. There were black plastic sleeves that slipped over the tops of your shoes to look like boots.
The outfit came with a beautiful, fluffy white beard and mustache combination that covered most of your face, including my natural beard. The red hat with a bright white pom-pom brought the ensemble together, and, to be honest, it was convincing. I was a good “Ho-Ho-er” with a big, booming voice and a quite jolly laugh and had no trouble convincing the under-10 set that I was the real deal.
Sometime after dinner, while the kids were being distracted, I would sneak off to put on the suit. I’d slink out the back door, where a bag full of presents for the kids was waiting. I’d shiver outside in the cold for a few minutes, then started making thumping noises, ringing my Christmas bells and bellowing a few “Ho-Ho-Ho’s.”
Making my entrance, the older kids were initially in shock, and the younger ones began to cry in fear. Nobody seemed to notice Uncle Paul was missing. After the initial commotion calmed down, I sat in the big chair and got a chance to talk to each kid individually. As far as they were concerned, I was Santa. I got to experience the pure joy of each child as they tentatively made their way over to sit on my lap and eventually chatted with me. The wonder on their faces was priceless. Somehow, Santa knew each one of their names.
When our chats were over, I’d reach into my bag and had a gift for everyone. Afterward, I’d have a cookie or two with them and then head out to take care of all the other children in the world.
We continued that tradition for a few years, adding a stop to visit my brother and his in-laws at their family gathering in nearby Lindenhurst. I met them in the garage to collect the Santa gifts for all the children. In the beginning, even my nieces and nephews didn’t recognize me. It was such a priceless period in our lives, bringing unbridled joy to not only the kids but the adults. Everyone wanted to sit on Santa’s lap for a minute or two.
One year, my oldest nephew Michael finally figured it out. As he sat on my knee, he whispered in my ear, “I know it’s you, Uncle Paul, but I won’t tell anyone.” I gave him my best Santa wink and he winked back. It was a special time that I’ll never forget. Maybe, someday, I can bring the suit out of mothballs and become the Big Man once more, this time for my grandchildren.
Have a wonderful holiday season, dear readers, and a safe and Happy New Year. See you all in 2020.