It always began the night before our Christmas visit with Santa when my mother carefully laid out my best suit of clothes and announced “Joe, you will need to get up early tomorrow morning because we are going to visit Santa in his Wonderland at Titches.” Titches was a leading Department Store in my hometown of Dallas, Texas and they annually transformed their entire auditorium into a magical setting featuring tons of fake snow, giant gingerbread houses, a miniature train upon which I could ride with other children and of course, Santa’s house where I would meet the big man himself.
Upon arrival, I recall the smell of peppermint sweeties and and hot cocoa. Mama carefully helped me into the colourful train and with a puff of smoke and a loud “toot toot” we were off to see the wonders of the season. At the end of the ride, mama escorted me into a long queue with hundreds of other children to meet the great man who was sitting high above us upon his golden bejeweled throne. The queue appeared to stretch for miles and the other children were restless, with some crying from trepidation about meeting Santa and others literally dancing in place with nervous excitement, exploding bladders or both.
Finally, mama led me by the hand up small steps and two enormous white gloved hands reached under my arms and lifted me upon giant red velvet knees. I recall my small blue eyes looking up into giant blue eyes that were barely visible under a large white wig and thick red cap. The head lowered so that his eyes met mine and asked me in a deep and God like voice “Well Joe, what would you like for Christmas?”
I was speechless. After a few awkward seconds he announced “I understand you have been a good boy, so I shall visit you soon.” Then he reached into his large red silk bag that was tied with a gold braided cord and handed me a large red striped candy cane. Mama told me to thank Santa and although I was still speechless I remember smiling in appreciation as we walked through the fake snow to return to our home.
Thirty – five years later, I owned an events management firm in Washington, DC and our most profitable season was Christmas whereby we would provide Santa Claus for many local shopping centres. One year, a shopping centre marketing manager called me and said in a desperate voice, “I have a problem!” She then explained that their regular Santa had become unwell and they had to substitute him with their maintenance man and he was a disaster as Father Christmas. I agreed to meet with her and see if we could help improve the situation.
I arrived at the centre just as Santa was making his first appearance. Nervously holding a microphone, the man portraying Santa shouted “Happy Xmas!” with a huge emphasis upon the letter “X”. It sounded as if he was announcing an X rated film. I then moved closer to him and discovered he was wearing a worn costume with cigarette burns in the trousers and his nicotine stained finger nails and smell of tobacco far from the best representation of the classic Clement Moore “The Night Before Christmas” image of Santa.
The marketing director appealed to me for immediate help and I offered to not only find her a new and better Santa but to also create a training programme that I immediately entitled The University of the North Pole in which I would be the first Dean and train men, women, people of colour, those who could communicate in American Sign Language and others to portray this historic and well loved character.
The course was such a success that radio and television producers scrambled to develop stories about our novel idea and each year, a local radio station would invite me to appear on the air as “Santa Goldblatt” to speak to local children about their hopes and dreams.
One year, as our eldest son turned five years of age, I sat down upon his bed and explained that he should listen to the radio because Santa would be calling him by name. I then tuned the radio to the correct station, kissed him good night, and secretly slipped away to become Santa.
As soon as I was dressed and had sneaked out the front door, I glanced at my watch and realised I was one hour early. Therefore, I wondered how I might use this extra time as Santa to brighten the lives of others? I remembered a little boy who lived up our lane whose parents sadly had seperated a few weeks earlier. I marched up to his front door and saw him peeking at me me through his front window. Then I knocked loudly upon his front door and when he opened it I did not wait for an invitation and instead marched into his living room and sat upon his father’s now empty chair.
Pulling the five year old lad onto my knee I looked him in the eye and said in a whisper “Matt, do you know you are the luckiest little boy in the world?” Matt shook his wee head from side to side. I then explained that far greater than the toys I might place under his tree was the love that his parents had for him. “Matt, you are the luckiest little boy in all the world because your parents love you with all their hearts.”
He looked up at me and smiled and then I noticed his mother staring with amazement from her kitchen and she was holding a tissue to her cheek to catch her falling tears. I quickly excused myself by announcing “Matt, I must now go back to the North Pole. However, I have decided that because you are the luckiest little boy in the world I shall be coming to your house first this Christmas eve and therefore you must be in bed by 6pm.” His mother later reported to me that he was in bed by 4pm!
During my radio show appearance, our son actually phoned in to speak to Santa. When I returned home I tip – toed past his door and then heard the patter of little feet followed by a strong pull upon the white fur trim of my red Santa jacket. I turned to see what was the matter and my wee boy looked up at me in anger and shouted “You lied to me! You are Santa!”
I then sat down in my chair and pulled him onto my knee and carefully explained “This red suit and white beard has nothing to do with being Santa. Santa is a feeling you may have in your heart every day. It is a chance to show love and kindness to others.”
He did not believe one word. However, in early January I was repairing a light fixture upon my front porch when our neighbour Matt came running up our steps asking to play with our son. I asked Matt if he had enjoyed Christmas and he proudly announced “Santa came to my house a week early! He told me that I am the luckiest little boy in the world!”
Then our son came onto the front porch and I worried that he might spill the beans to Matt and let him know about his father playing Santa. However, to my surprise, our son took his place standing behind Matt and as our neighbour continued to share his enthusiasm about meeting Santa our son raised his tiny chin and with his piercing blue eyes looked into my blue eyes and in one gesture let me know what Santa truly was at that very moment. Our son winked at me.
Therefore, during these dark winter months and dark times due to an unrelenting pandemic, I know that the editor of the New York City Sun newspaper was correct when he responded to the letter from little Virginia O’Hanlon who simply asked “Does Santa Claus exist?” The veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church responded in 1897 concluding his editorial by stating ” A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
To find Santa this festive season, look within yourself for happy memories and look outwith yourself for other lives that you may help brighten and have a happy festive season and a healthy and good new year.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University and is the author, co – author and editor of 40 books in the field of events management. A few years ago, he gifted his Santa suit to a local Edinburgh actor in Edinburgh so that the tradition of “Santa Goldblatt” could continue for at aleast another thousand years. To read more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot