I turned in the following It’s a Living column just before Christmas, but it didn’t reach the right editor in time and never ran.
It’s a Living: Santa Claus
Joe Bays is a seasonal Santa and W.C. Fields impersonator
By Greg Stacy
Do you mostly appear at malls or kid’s parties, or what?
Mostly private parties, for adults and children. I haven’t done a mall in I don’t know how long, maybe a decade. I just did a Chamber of Commerce this last Wednesday – in Artesia, I believe it was.
How are the kid parties different from the adult ones?
Well, you give out nicer presents (at the adult ones), I’ll tell you that! Mostly you’re there to take pictures… it serves as a kind of yardstick to measure kids as they’re growing up. You can look back, year by year, at the child with Santa, and you see the attitudes change, as the child goes from total belief, to not believing or being skeptical and somewhat standoffish, to then, when they’re older, they want to sit on your lap so they can be a child again, and pretend they believe, even if it’s only for a moment.
Do you get a lot of smart-aleck questions? “How can Santa visit every house in one night?”
Well, the obvious answer to that question is that it’s magic. Kids will ask, “If you know everything, what’s my name?” Kids can ask some very difficult questions. One time, a child asked if I could bring his dad back to life.
What did you say?
I told him there are some things Santa can’t do. I said, “Always value yourself, and take care of yourself, and do the right thing, because as long as you’re alive, a part of your dad is alive.”
Wow. That’s amazing.
Well, it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. But there are no stock answers.
What about when a kid asks if you know their name?
You look at the child for cues, to see if they’re actually testing you, or if it’s a game you can both play. They have such a short shelf life of belief, and you never want to do anything to break the magic of the moment. In modern life, I think we’ve lost the ability to believe in something yet not believe in it. The ancient Greeks didn’t think Zeus literally existed, but they believed in the power of him, as an idea. Santa is one of the last myths like that, where we know he doesn’t literally exist… but we want our picture taken with him anyway! He appeals to the better angels of our natures, and we look for a part of him in ourselves. I’ve had everybody on my lap from 10 days to 80 years, and I’ll tell you, an octogenarian’s giggle sound a lot like a 5-year-old’s!