While away on business in western Wyoming, I was lucky enough to run into the big man himself.
No, not God. I’m hoping that meeting is a ways off yet.
I’m talking about the man of the season, Santa Claus.
While visiting a department store, I saw, well, politely put, a rotund man (I can say that word because it’s a physical attribute we share) with a very white beard, his white hair peeking out from beneath a stocking cap, his face adorned with small, round glasses.
As a longtime scholar of Santa, I was sure it was him. The signs were there — an ever-present smile turning up the edges of his mustache, rosy cheeks — it had to be him.
He was carefully scanning the items in the toy section, making notes in a small notebook and occasionally nodding.
As I approached, ready to ask if he was indeed Kris Kringle, he turned to face me and put his fingers on his lips in the universal symbol of “shush.”
“Not here,” he muttered. “Meet me outside and we’ll talk.”
I headed for the door and a few minutes later, he joined me.
“Let’s go get some cocoa,” he said.
A short time later, I was seated in a quiet restaurant enjoying a fine mug of hot chocolate, the legend himself sitting across from me.
“I’m …” I started.
“I know who you are. I’m Santa,” he interrupted with a chuckle. “You want to ask me some questions. I can’t guarantee I’ll answer them all, but I’ll do the best I can.
What follows is a transcript of my chat with the boss of presents.
CSD: So, Santa, what are you doing in Wyoming?
SC: I travel the world in the weeks leading up to Christmas to get an idea of what toys are selling well, which would be the best for kids, the average prices … basic market research. I have to know how we measure up at the North Pole and keep up with the latest trends.
CSD: Well, what are the best toys out there?
SC: I really appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into today’s toys. The variety of dolls, cars, electronic games, board games and other items is astounding. And the attention to detail every step along the way is admirable. I like to think my elves have inspired the entire toy world to step up to the plate.
But for me, I like the classics — Legos, Play-doh, art kits, books — toys that inspire creativity, let a child’s mind roam free. Life is complicated enough these days — I like the fact that the kids can just sit back with some of those old-fashioned toys and let loose.
And I really should note the elves don’t let me play with hoverboards any more. I keep falling off and knocking their toys on the ground.
CSD: You appear in so many places at once — stores, street corners raising money, parties, parades … how do you do it?
SC: Well, it’s no secret I don’t work alone. There are thousands of people out there who serve as my assistants, filling in for me at all of the holiday events where Santa’s presence would be appreciated.
What a lot of people don’t know is I fill in for the assistants every once in a while. It helps me keep tabs on what’s going on down here. So that Santa on the street corner? It might be me. The one at the department store? Could be me. At the family party? Yeah, I’m big on family parties — I might be the guy you thought was Uncle Lowell hoovering his way through the Christmas Rice Krispie treats.
You never know when it might be me — so don’t be naughty. I’m talking to you, Wyoming legislators.
CSD: What kind of changes are you seeing this year with coronavirus?
SC: There so many safeguards in place to prevent the spread of the illness. And I support that. As Santa Claus, I’m immune — there are some perks to being a saint, after all — but I don’t want to spread any germs I might pick up from my travels around the globe.
So we’re seeing a lot of shields between Santa and the kids. I miss having the kids talk directly to me, but we’re getting by.
Of course, some things never change. There’s still nothing more entertaining than a room full of adults trying to make a toddler smile during a photo with Santa.
CSD: Are the kids nicer or naughtier in midst of the pandemic?
SC: You know, it’s funny — they spent so much time cooped up in their homes for so many months, you would expect that they would act out. But they seem nicer — it’s like they got the idea that the nicer everyone is while stuck at home, the better life is going to be.
And you know what that means! A LOT of Barbies, Hot Wheels, Playstations and Baby Alives are going to be underneath trees this year.
CSD: You’ve been doing this for, what, about 1,300 years now? What is the biggest change you’ve seen?
SC: The real game changer has been social media. You know, I don’t have to make nearly as many trips south as I used to to keep tabs on people. I just check out Facebook.
And let me tell you something, a lot of people on Facebook are going to be getting coal this year. Let me give you a tip: calling someone a “poophead” because you disagree with them politically is one sure way to get on my naughty list. Think about it.
CSD: Speaking of politics …
SC: I don’t.
CSD: OK, fair enough. So is there anything else you want to share?
SC: I just want everybody to remember that Christmas — and Santa — aren’t just for one day out of the year. Everybody should work hard throughout the year to earn a spot on the “nice” list. Treat each other like it’s Christmas every day. Say hello to a stranger. Offer to help a neighbor. Spend a little more time with family and friends. Donate what you can — time or money — to a favorite cause. Smile a little more. Maybe even treat someone with different opinions from you with some respect.
Those things won’t make it Christmas every day — but each day will feel a little more like Christmas.
Other than that … Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.