Stories from a Guy in the Red Suit.
This year will be my fourth as Whitebeard. You know him, the guy in the red suit, St Nick, Santa, Father Christmas.
The season at the Mall I work at starts on the 30th of November. In some places, the photography sets have already opened. From the 30/11 to the 24/12 I will be working full time six days a week. But it is not my hours that I will be talking about today. No, I will be talking to you about my experiences over the last three years. Letting you know some of the things we “Shopping Mall Santas” see and do. What it actually means to be the Spirit of Christmas.
First of all, a few common questions. Yes, the Man does exist. If thought can create reality, and a belief is a thought, then Santa Claus exists. Am I the real Santa? When you touch me am I real? But the beard is fake, well true, I work for the actual Santa, he is very busy at this time of year. So he hires men like me for the Shopping Centres. Yes, we do pass on Christmas wishes and lists to Santa, no I am not at liberty to say how. Let us call it magic and leave it at that.
Now in Australia it is summer when we have Christmas. Generally, it is over 30c during the day, often over 35c and even over 40c some days. That suit is hot. We get bloody hot. Dehydration is a real threat for Aussie Santas. I love the fan on our set. Our legs get sore as well. Spend several hours with someone sitting on your lap and you will know what I am talking about.
Everyone is under the misunderstanding that it is all about the kids. Yes, the kids are an integral part of the job. But the reality is we are about the season, the spirit of generosity, kindness, and goodwill. There is no age limit to those things, I have had babies from less than a week old through to senior citizens in the 70’s sit on Santa’s lap. Everyone is welcome to talk to Santa and have a photo on our sets.
Then we have the idiots. Parents who threaten their kids because they won’t smile perfectly for the photo. Seriously, threatening to belt your kid is really going to make them smile. Or those parents who think that they are the only ones in the entire shopping centre. Taking fifty or sixty photos in order to get the perfect shot. Come on, I need to pee you know? Not to mention the other twenty or thirty families cueing up waiting behind you.
Or the ones that think political correctness is killing Christmas. Um no, it is your pig ignorance and hatred that does more harm to Christmas than any sense of respect for other religions and cultures will ever do. Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Atheists, Pagans, Buddhists have all sat on my knee, so get over your own bigoted bullshit you wanker and enjoy Christmas.
Let me stress that these people are in the minority, maybe three or four people out of the thousands I see in the lead up to Christmas.
So why do I do this job then? What brings me back year after year? Well, here are a couple of stories for you.
One time I had this woman, she was wheelchair bound. We moved my throne out of the way and she parked her wheelchair in the centre of the set. I then pretended to sit on her lap. It was a brilliant photo, and the woman was very happy with the results.
I had this family come in and they wanted different Santa photos. Not the same boring poses. The first year, they scared Santa, pretending to hold his arms and steal his presents. The second year they came back and I put the son [a boy around ten] over my shoulder and moved to head off the set with him. The daughter pointed at us with a mock horrified expression on her face. The family loved both photos. I hope I see them again this year.
Then there was the woman who approached me as I was walking up to the set. She said to me, “I don’t believe in Santa, but if he is real, can he help my mother who is sick in hospital get better for Christmas?” I hugged her and spoke truthfully, that I personally couldn’t help, but maybe her Christmas wish would be granted. I then let her know that a man in a red suit had a daughter in Sydney Children’s Hospital for an MRI Scan that morning, and he also needed Santa’s help. She hugged me even harder and then said thank you and goodbye.
Another time I had this woman with grown-up children come in for a photo. She was desperate to get one that day. There was about five kids, mid-teens to early twenties. Anyway, we have a photo with the family. The mum explains that her husband was in the hospital, dying of Cancer. His only wish was a family photo to have on his bedside table in his ward. The mum was also going in for some surgery the next day, hence the urgency. Our printer plays up, so she heads off after being told to come back in half an hour or so. I tell the photographer that the photo needs to be free. Unfortunately, he was a rule stickler. So I said, I would pay for it. In the end, we shared the cost of a snowglobe photo frame and photo to fit inside of it. When she came back and she was given her gift, she hugged Santa and burst into tears.
A family came in with three kids. One of the boys had Autism. He managed to stand next to Santa for a photo. His parents were excited. As the family was making their choice on which photo to have printed off [we take about six and let them choose]the young boy came back up to me. I asked if he wanted to sit on my knee and he nodded agreement. So I picked him up and plopped him on my knee. We sat quietly together just looking at the set. I caught the photographer’s eye and got her to take some pictures. The parents saw their son on Santa’s knee and were amazed. Then the mum noticed the photographer was taking photos. She said please stop, we can't afford the extra ones. Santa said pick a photo, it has been taken care of. The boy jumped off Santa’s lap and went off with Dad. I walked up to the mum and repeated my instruction. I said something along the lines of “I am taking care of the photo, so pick one. You mentioned your boy has autism and is usually afraid of Santa. It may be another ten years before you get another chance of a photo like this.” Again poor old Santa made a grown woman cry.
Most people are decent human beings just trying to do the best they can for their families at Christmas.
There are fun stories as well. Having photos with the local constabulary, radio personalities, and Army recruits. I once got a guy who was close to six and a half feet tall and easily 150kg+ to sit on my knee. I have had sleeping babies, terrified toddlers, and embarrassed teenagers. Santa has been kissed on the cheek by beautiful ladies and by cheeky guys. Santa dabs, is a metalhead and loves bubbles.
All of these things are why I keep coming back, putting on that red suit, false beard, wig, and hat.