Impersonating Santa Claus last week made me believe in his magic all the more. It was fun to put on the famous man’s red suit and paint my beard white even if it looked like I fell asleep face-down in a bowl of Liquid Paper. It was exciting to use my Santa voice and to ad-lib in character. What really made it a memorable experience were the kids who were just the right age to interact with Mr. Claus.
One young man wanted to put me to the test. “You know my name, right Santa?”
“Ho ho ho! There are so many names. Let’s play a game. You tell me the first letter.”
“E like Eric?” I asked.
“Yes Santa!” he exclaimed.
I thought it was a lucky guess and proceeded to ask Eric if he had been good all year and deserved to be on the Nice List.
After a few seconds of conversation, Eric said, “you also know my brother’s name.”
“Yeah, you know the first letter, it’s the same as brother.”
The name Brian was headed toward my lips like a runaway train barreling down the tracks. It didn’t feel like the right answer but I’ve known so many Brians during my life that it was all I could think of. At the last millisecond it veered away and I heard myself say, “You mean Brandon?”
Eric’s eyes grew wide. I was two for two.
I couldn’t stop and think about what had just happened. Eric fully expected Santa to know his and his brother’s names. Santa would continue with the conversation without wondering who had somehow taken control of his speech.
Eric’s mother was nearby but out of earshot. She came over to tell Eric not to take up too much of my time and to give the other kids a chance. They went to some of the other activities in the parish hall but Eric kept coming back to Santa. He followed me when I went to visit the senior citizens sitting at tables in the hall. I let Eric help me hand out candy canes to the older folk.
There were activity tables around the room. At one spot, kids could place stickers of the Holy Family, the shepherds and the animals onto a manger scene. At another, they could decorate sugar cookies. At a third, they could make Christmas ornaments of Santa or a reindeer or a snowman.
Eric came back to my chair yet again. “I made you a present,” he said. He handed me an ornament of Santa’s face.
“Now Eric,” I said, “I’m going to give this back to you for a moment. I want you to take it and find a pen. I want you to write your name, write Eric on it and give it back to me because that will make it extra special.”
When I got home, I put Eric’s ornament in a place of honor on our tree where I would see it from my chair. I will treasure it as much as any of the souvenir ornaments my family and I have collected through the years.