Behold, a photograph of my father on Santa’s lap:
This idyllic little scene took place somewhere in Michigan, after 1957 but before 1960, probably in a department store, by the look of it (Wikipedia tells me that the enclosed shopping mall, as we know it, didn’t appear anywhere until 1956). A teddy bear and a cap gun sit amid the candy-cane stripes beside the chair–the store’s suggestions, perhaps, for the child who is struck speechless at his or her encounter with holiday celebrity.
Santa himself sports a fake beard and even more preposterous looking boots, which is strange, given that the ring on his hand looks like the kind you get for winning a football championship or bowling a perfect game. And why not? Perhaps the elves of the mid-twentieth century were far better smiths than tailors. Maybe Santa accidentally shaves on the morning of December 23rd and finds himself in need of prop facial hair.
The most clever part of this scene, however, is not beside Santa’s chair or on his person–it’s that pad of paper you may notice staked to the front of the chair. The one with the numbers on the front and the perforated pages. It’s an order form–nothing for a kid to scribble a list on, mind you, but rather one for the parents to dutifully fill out before departing the store, so that they might get a 5×7 of this stranger and their child in the mail some weeks later. In the age of Polaroid, and now, the age of digitally reproduced imagery, such a formal display of one’s intentions is no longer necessary. But here, the kid strips a form from the pad and takes it to mommy and daddy after he or she tells Santa about his or her most intense and seasonal desires.
Even next to a stranger, and even upon a chair that looks like it might have been hauled out of a dumpster late in the night, my father looks pretty happy to be with Santa (unlike this kid. Or this one).
Maybe it’s fitting, because my father dressed as Santa one year in the late 80s. Not at a mall, and not in a Meijer. Not in front of a grocery store ringing a bell half the day, either. According to a VHS home video that I have since lost track of, my father was invited by his brother to play Santa for my then-very-young cousin Mark and some of his toddler friends. Forget the laughable sideburns you saw in your father’s senior picture, or the sheer awkwardness of seeing photos of your parents as teens, playing baseball and going to proms, wearing smiles that are eerily like your own … seeing a video of my father, not even 30 years old, in a rented suit and hamming it up in the sun-room of my uncle’s house, ranks among the strangest things I’ve ever seen in my life.
He came through the door with a pillowcase over his shoulder, delivering that year’s gifts and candy canes in person. The kids were either dumbstruck or too silent for the camera–maybe wondering why they were seeing Santa at their (friend’s) house instead of in a place beside gobs of stuff you could ask for on the spot.
At the time that I watched this at my grandparent’s place, I felt nothing but the chasm between how my father appeared in it, and how he appeared to my teenage-slacker-self in the present day. It wasn’t just in the costume or the age–it was the demeanor. He was, objectively speaking, one ornery 30-and-40-something. Ultimately, though, I hope that I understood then what I understand now–that costume or not, he played Santa every year.
He’s been a force of good, for me, for as long as I can remember. And I’ll have to really, really try to remember this when he’s giving me advice about a house next year.
Merry Ch … hm. Happy Holi … well. Pleasant winter, everyone!