by Larry Fitzgerald, BSC Graduate of the International University of Santa Claus
One of the most fulfilling ministries I've ever had the privilege to participate in is helping Santa Claus come alive for children and the young-at-heart. This I've done for about 37 years, now.
The first time to wear the red suit
I'll never forget my first experience as Santa ... when the phone rang nearly four decades ago. A friend of my father explained hurriedly that the guy who was supposed to make "Santa's first arrival" the day after Thanksgiving could not do it. He asked if I would fill in. "What am I supposed to do?" I asked. He replied: "Just put on the suit and say, 'Ho, Ho, Ho.'" But I found that children wanted more than that. They wanted to talk. So talk we did. Not just about what toys they wanted but about their lives.
The first time Santa cried
The first time I cried as Santa was when a child sat on my knee and said, "Would you bring my daddy back home for Christmas. He's in prison." That was a tough one. That's when I reassured this child that Santa loved him but sometimes mommies and daddies have to be away. "But," I said, "Maybe you can send him a special Christmas card." (The little boy's mother nodded.) He smiled at this.
Santa's most fulfilling experience
Being Santa for children (and the elderly) at church and in the community is rewarding. Serving as a model for print and television ads is fun. But the most fulfilling experience this Santa has ever had is working with children associated with hospice care. These are kids who are dealing with terminal illness in their lives. Either they have the illness or a loved one does. One young lady was given just three months to live. Her parents warned me that she hadn't smiled in several weeks. Santa came into her room with that one goal -- help her smile. I joked with her. And, smile she did. She asked for Santa to visit again the next day. After three months of daily visits, she was much improved. Today, she is 28 years old and in complete remission. The doctors were at a loss why she is alive but if you ask her, she will tell you why she's well: "Santa made me laugh."
Is Santa real?
Is Santa real? "Santa Claus" was a real life Christian hero named Nicolas of Myra. He was a kind and generous gentleman who cared for people -- especially children. Every time someone helps another or gives to others without expectation of return, then he or she is Santa. And Nicolas' life is honored. Is Santa real? Just ask a 28 year old who re-learned how to laugh.
P.S. Santa's favorite book ... Many months ago, I was privileged to read A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts in the manuscript form. I have a large library of Christmas books but, aside from the Bible, this is now my favorite. I particularly like the short stories of all the Christmas firsts. (Can't wait to try the recipes and tips, too.)