When my bishop asked if I’d like to play Santa at the church Christmas party, I didn’t think about the fact that I had a five-year-old and a seven-year-old who might lose all belief in Christmas. Instead I got excited, and I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always wanted to wear a beard and a white itchy wig, or perhaps it’s because I love Christmas cheer, but honestly, the more I think about it, I most likely did it because I love attention, and during Christmas time, few people get more attention than Santa.
The Bishop told me that the older, fatter man he’d originally asked couldn’t make it. “You expressed interest in doing this, and unless someone older, fatter, and interested walks in, I’m going to have you do it.”
I wasn’t sure how to take what he said. It seemed like he’d placed me in a line-up of potential Santas and said, “Well… he isn’t all that fat, and he isn’t all that old, but he’s all we got.” And indeed, I had expressed interest in the role. I’d kind of pestered him about it. Saying things like, “I’d make an awesome Santa!” and “I’ve been working on my Ho Ho Ho just in case.”
The Christmas party was at a Mormon church. I was sitting at a long table, other Mormons to my left and right, each of us eating ham and funeral potatoes. The bishop was a large man with red hair, and as he spoke, he did so in code so that the children wouldn’t understand, saying things like, “I need you to be the big man,” followed by raised eyebrows. And “Your suit is in the office,” followed by a wink.
We were in a basketball court because it was the largest room in the building. Every Mormon Church has a court. I recently found out that this has led people to assume that all Mormons are amazing basketball players. However, I will be the first to tell you that I have been Mormon all of my life and I have the hand-eye coordination of a toddler. I’m also short, about 5’ 7”, and under 200 pounds. I wasn’t built like a ball player, and indeed, the Bishop was right. I didn’t really look like Santa, either.
At least not in the classic, Coca-Cola Santa way: a fat jolly man with a beard and wrinkles. I wondered if children would accept a younger and leaner Santa, or would they look at my slender waistline and smooth eyes, and tell me that I was full of shit. Would they call me out? Would they yank off my beard? Suddenly I felt a lot of pressure to perform. Santa was kind of a big deal, at least to children, and I needed to keep up the idea that he really existed. Not for the children though. For the parents.
Santa is terrifying. He sees kids when they’re sleeping. He knows when they’re awake. And he knows if they’ve been bad or good. During the month of December children spend a lot of time looking over their shoulders, and not crying, and not pouting, because Santa Claus is coming to town.
As the Bishop and I spoke, my seven-year-old son was to my right eating Christmas cookies, and listening intently. Tristan was in a transitional age when it came to Santa. He wanted to believe, but his own curiosity for the adult world was getting the best of him. Last year he even announced that he didn’t believe in Santa anymore, but my wife was able to convince him otherwise.
In the church’s main office, I changed into the Santa suit. It was a small room with a window in the door and an outdated PC on a desk. I checked my beard, stuffed my shirt, and practiced my “Ho, Ho.” Then I stepped out into the gym to speak with the children. I really threw myself at the role. I tried to speak in a husky Santa-like baritone, but it just sounded like I was a long time smoker. I vigorously shook my bells, hoping to compensate for my youth and poor acting.
Short, boogery-faced children rushed me, their arms out, hands freckled with cookie frosting, eyes glossy with longing for affirmation that Santa had, indeed, noticed that they’d been good all year, and would bring them that Elsa Princess Dress, or copy of Skylander Trap Team on Christmas morning.
I looked down at the children, and they tugged at my red velvet pants that were supported with red Santa-themed suspenders, and repeated, “Santa! Santa!” in cult-like cheers. I patted their heads like some kind of faith healer, blessing them with good will to men, and repeated my slogan over and over, “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!”
I had a difficult time walking for a few reasons. One was the crowd of children, naturally. The slick black plastic boots that came with the suit made things difficult, too. They slid around on the gym floor, and I seemed to be constantly on the verge of losing my balance. I also could hardly see through the beard and wig that was hot and itchy. I was surprised how quickly I went from jolly to grumpy. Eventually I just started pushing children out of the way.
Near the back of the basketball court was a stage, and on it was a big red chair with a bag of candy beside it. I sat down, and to my left children were already lining up, their legs jiggling, their eyes full of wonder. The first to sit on Santa's lap was a little blond girl that I’d never seen before. I asked her name, and she looked at me like I was an approaching train. I don’t recall ever being afraid of Santa. I was always more interested in trying to plead my case. I saw it as an opportunity to justify all the shitty things I’d done all year. However, this little girl clearly saw me as a threat. Probably because Santa is often described as a god-like figure who can peer into children’s souls and measure their true worth.
There wasn’t much she could do outside of just play dumb. I asked her name. No response. I asked what she wanted for Christmas. Nothing. I asked if she wanted candy, and she nodded. I handed her a bag with a few candy canes. She grabbed it and ran.
Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.