By Karl Terry
“No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
— New York Sun Editor Francis P. Church
Little 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote the New York Sun 108 years ago questioning if Santa Claus existed.
The reply came back from the editor, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
That famous reply and the reasons it details for believing in Santa is no doubt one of the things that keeps him alive, even in the hearts of adults. Faith in the good things we’ve never seen is important for all of us.
Personally I got it — the whole believing in the spirit of Christmas thing, that is — at a young age. I was pretty darn curious about how all that Santa stuff worked, but I wasn’t willing to rock the boat at Christmas. Santa has never quit visiting me on Dec. 24 either.
Actually I’ve had quite a history of playing Santa Claus myself. My first Santa gig was at the White Auto store in Tucumcari, which was owned by my wife’s family. The suit was procured and I “Ho, Ho, Hoed” my way through the store one Christmas eve. It was a disaster. I was mobbed by greedy kids and parents, who only wanted to know what else I had in my sack. And could they trade?
I swore off the long beard and red cap for several years but finally went back undercover as Saint Nick in Colorado while I was on the chamber of commerce board in Carbondale. The regular Santa had fallen through and it was up to me to save Christmas.
Santa Claus in Carbondale was expected to do his thing outdoors at night. My debut there featured temperatures around 7 degrees Fahrenheit. Santa’s long underwear wasn’t nearly as wooly as it needed to be that night. The beard kept my face warm but it fogged up my glasses.
It’s a definite occupational hazard for Santa not to be able to see well enough to determine whether it’s a boy or girl on his lap. One errant “what do you want for Christmas little boy” when it’s actually a little girl, and parents really let Santa have it.
Most of the time you can’t understand a word the kids are saying, because most of them are scared witless by the old coot with the beard. The shy ones who wouldn’t talk weren’t too bad, but the ones who started screaming the minute Mom sat them on my lap were another matter altogether.
But it was a blast to do it because the kids loved it so.
My fame as Santa Claus grew around Carbondale, and over four or five years I visited classes, the mayor’s Christmas luncheon for kids and the Rotary Head Start Christmas party.
The most memorable event without a doubt was the night I was to arrive at the park gazebo atop a fire truck. I decided the best effect would be if I crawled all the way out on the front of the ladder, way up top. So the fire department guys stopped a few blocks away and helped me clamber out there and then headed the truck toward the park.
As we turned the corner by the edge of the park, Santa caught a glimpse of a looming tree branch through his fogged-up spectacles. With 200 kids screaming, focused on his arrival in the park, Santa had to move quick or lose hat and beard … or worse yet, fall from the truck, traumatizing every kid in Carbondale for life.
I ducked and was able to sweep the branch aside, avoiding either fate. But I’ll tell you, it was a minute or two before Santa got his legs back under him well enough to climb down after we stopped.