News staffers share Christmas memories: A sixth-grade lesson from ‘Santa Steve’

When David Sedaris’ “The Santaland Diaries” appears on stage every December, it reminds me of my own experiences as a store Santa Claus, 24 years ago in Vancouver.

Beyond the itchy suit and long lulls between kids (for this was a crafts store and not a busy mall) there was little drama or pain involved; the kids, and their parents, were almost always enjoyable. Often the little ones were hesitant about sitting on my lap, so in those lulls I would stroll around the store and feign surprise when happening into one of the reluctants.

Those “accidental” encounters often made them want to pay visits to Santa after all. For some kids, this rite of passage just needed to be on their own terms.

My experience portraying Santa dates to my sixth-grade year, when I played the Right Jolly Old Elf in the school pageant at Rose Hill Elementary near Seattle.

One of my guiding principles was to project — to speak loud enough for all to hear. That way, I would avoid what happened two years earlier.

As a knowing fourth-grader, I was surprised and a little bothered when that year’s Santa, played by Steve Farmer, did not project, leading to his teacher to call out, “Louder, Steve!”

I wondered why Mr. Slater did not just say, “Louder, Santa!” Did he think Santa/Steve would otherwise think he meant some other Steve sitting in the gym?

Given that three were one or two borderline believers in the second grade Mr. Slater might just as well have called out, “Hey kiddies, there’s no such thing as Santy!”

After my sixth-grade Santa stint, I couldn’t leave the Santa spirit at school. I brought home the nicely wrapped prop presents — all empty — and placed them under the tree.

Speaking of “empty” boxes, one year my cousin Peggy mailed us six two-inch square packages, each beautifully wrapped, and we hung these clever ornaments on the tree each Christmas.

Years later, my aunt and uncle came to visit from Michigan and saw the presents on the tree. “You never opened Peggy’s presents?” they asked. Inside were six tiny gifts; I do not remember what they were. Our family’s surprise was gift enough.

My Mom resealed the boxes and for years we continued to use them as ornaments.

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