Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

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He Sees You When You’re Sleeping

November 23, 2009

I saw this guy in a Santa Claus parade this weekend. It sums up my humbuggy holiday spirits just fine. Also, we haven’t had any snow, and it feels more like September than the end of November.

Meanwhile, the stupid guy across the road from us has become the only person on our rural stretch to put up Christmas lights. He just moved in, and he’s kind of an asshole (he’s the one who tossed the dead skunk in my yard this summer). The worst part? His entire house is lit up with blue lights. It looks like that night the Smurfs got fucked up on E at a rave and pulled a train on Smurfette.

He was setting up one of those inflatable snow globe bullshit things this afternoon. It makes me wish I had a BB gun.

I didn’t always hate Christmas. In fact, I once had a cutesy Christmas children’s story serialized in a daily newspaper (which you can still read here). Lately, though, I’m just tired of all the fuss and hustle, and I’ll be glad when it’s over.

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A Little Christmas Magic

December 16, 2008

Hey, sorry I haven’t been around for a couple of days. It’s been crazy. New and strange things are happening here, and I will tell you about them as they unfold.

In the meantime, I just dug up an old story of mine from about six years ago. It’s fiction, a goofy Christmas tale about a kid who meets Santa.

What happened was this: I was an editor at a daily in northern Ontario. We had sold a month-long ad campaign featuring a Christmas advertisement that almost filled a page, but not quite, and we needed something to run across the top each day for the month leading up to Christmas. A lot of ideas were knocked around — Christmas carol lyrics, recipes, photos, that sort of thing. But then we hit on the idea of running a serialized short story.

I was drafted to write it, because I am that extremely rare animal: a journalist who write fiction on the side.

Then it got corporatized, of course. Our publisher heard about the plan and asked us to centre the story on a community north of the city itself, a town that had been a famously tough sell for our paper. For decades, this area — predominantly francophone — had refused to embrace the paper, saying we didn’t represent them or their interests.

“Get a lot of references in there,” the publisher said. “Make these people think we care about them!”

The end result is a little strange, and not at all representative of my actual work. But it was fun to read again. I hope you like it.

You can read it here: When Santa Stalled

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If You’re Buying A Toy For A Kid

December 7, 2008

We took the kids to my mother’s government agency’s annual Christmas party for kids this weekend. There were probably about 400 kids there, and they each got a present. I always dread these kinds of things, because my kids are picky and mouthy, so I told them, going in: no matter what Santa gives you, you say thank you.

“Okay, Daddy!” they chimed.

So, first up was Weathereye 2.0., my five-year-old.  He received a large box, which looked promising. He opened it, and it was … a Rescue Tech set, one of several in the MegaBlocks line … and the only one he already had.

Next up: Weatherette, my seven-year-old daughter, who lives and breathes all things small, collectible and plastic (Littlest Pet Shop, etc.). She got: a box with Etch-A-Sketch, Slinky and a Yo-Yo, called “Toy Hall of Fame.” Instant downturned smile.

Finally, Weathereye Jr., my nine-year-old, who more than anything wants to grow up to be Rambo, but with parts from a Transformer. He got a two-pack of laser-guided Nerf pistols. He smiled ear to ear, because (a) I have a no-guns policy in my home and (b) I’ve already told him no matter, what, you take the present.

I was most worried about 2.0. He is prone to getting upset about silly things. But I quickly realized that he didn’t know he already had this toy (it’s an amazing toy, actually.) He figured it out on the way home, then surprised me with this: “Hey, now I have two!”

Weatherette griped about her lack of plastic pony/puppy all the way home, but once the box was opened discovered the sheer pleasure of these classic toys. She drew with the Etch-A-Sketch, slinked the Slinky and I spent way too much time teaching her the basics of Yo-Yology (she saw me walk the dog and rock the cradle (badly), and that was it — she was hooked).

Jr. displayed admirable responsibility with the pistols. He managed to avoid shooting his younger siblings for the rest of the weekend, and only got me once.

All in all, though, if you’re toy-shopping, the Toy Hall of Fame is a perfect purchase. If it can get Weatherette hooked, it can get any kid hooked.

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Confessions of a Shopping Mall Santa, Part 3

November 29, 2008

One of the most interesting things about being a mall Santa is the permanence of it. I took off the costume every night, unstrapped the two fake bellies and carefully peeled the beard from my face. But I had spent that day, and the other 50 or so that I was Santa Claus, being photographed, and those photos are still out there.

As you may recall, I took the job as Santa after being laid off from the newspaper where I worked as a reporter. I was recalled the following spring, so the Santa weeks were really just a hiccup in what has otherwise been a long career in journalism.

A couple of holiday seasons after all of this happened, I was sent to someone’s house to interview their daughter, who, if I recall correctly, had earned some kind of amazing scholarship. As I was interviewing the girl and her parents, I noticed a photo on the mantle, smiled, and pointed at it.

“You know,” I said, “that’s me in that photo.”

The dad took it down, squinted at it, squinted at me, back at the photo, back at me, and said “I’ll be damned.”

It was a picture, I should mention, of me and their dog. This mall had a Pets-With-Santa day, where people could bring their animals in. I am very allergic to animals with fur, and not crazy about other kinds, so you can imagine the sneezy, nose-runny day I had, which got worse when someone draped a boa over my shoulders for a photo. But the spirit of Christmas was strong in this one, and I soldiered on.

I guess those photos of me are floating around to this day. There must be hundreds. But one of them, in particular, would pop up in my life again in a far more interesting way.

What happened was I got married. The following Christmas, my new wife and I were unpacking our combined Christmas decorations, and she took out a framed picture of her two daughters with Santa. And, of course, it was me. She didn’t believe me at first, and it took some convincing, but in the end, she got it. So that nifty photo was part of our annual Christmas display during that brief marriage, and maybe it’s still out there. I don’t know.

Ho ho ho.

Part 1, Part 2

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Confessions of a Shopping Mall Santa, Part 2

November 16, 2008

(This is the second in a series that will appear occasionally, leading up to Christmas. The first part is here.)

The biggest problem with being a mall Santa in a downtown shopping centre is the people who spend their days there.

I’m not talking about the shoppers and the employees. I mean the people who park their asses in the food court five minutes after the mall opens and stay all day, nursing cups of coffee and carrying on with whatever they’re not supposed to be doing. This mall was like that. Back then, people could still smoke indoors in Ontario, so the food court was a grey-clouded wasteland of empty lives, its regulars sitting at orange molded plastic tables and chairs, arguing, sneaking booze into their Pepsi cans, dealing drugs on a very small scale and all in all just hiding from life.

Some of them would occasionally wander, or stagger, past Santa’s Workshop. For the most part, they treated me as an interesting diversion, and with good humour. Once in a while, one of the hookers would come sit on my knee and flirt a bit, and I would stay in character, and everyone would have a good laugh. It has been my experience, after all, that people at that low end of our food chain tend to be the most genuine, and good company on a limited scale.

One morning, during the first week on the job, a couple turned up at Santa’s Workshop with their little boy. It was about 10:30 a.m., and Mom and Dad were completely smashed. The reek of liquor was like a plasma in the air around them; it was clear they were still going from the night before, or maybe the week before.

And they had this cute little guy with them. Maybe four years old, big dark eyes, scrabbly hair, dirty clothes … and a winning smile. The elf and the photographer greeted this little family; Mom and Dad said no to the $10 photo package and shoved the kid at me. “Just tell him you want the free fucken colouring book,” the mother growled.

The kid crawled onto my knee. Mom and Dad stayed back a bit, but I could still smell them. My elf, a high school girl, was visible distressed. “So, what can Santa bring you for Christmas?” I asked my new young friend, knowing the odds were good that he wouldn’t have a Christmas tree at all, and if he did the only thing under it December 25 would be a passed-out friend of his loser parents.

“Can you bring my mom a nice ring?” this kid asked.

I was taken aback. “Don’t you want some nice toys?”

“Yeah, but my mom needs a ring,” he said again.

Well, there’s the spirit of Christmas, I thought. I’ve already told you how the spirit had filled me up when I started doing this, and now it was clear I wasn’t alone. I wanted to rush down to the department store on the main floor and buy every toy on the shelf for this kid. I wanted to bring him home with me to play with my own son, who was about that age. I just wanted him to have a real Christmas.

But before I could say anything, his mother staggered up, laughing. “He isn’t even the real Santa Claus!” she shouted. And she grabbed my beard, and she yanked.

Now, remember that I glued that puppy on. With spirit gum, which doesn’t come off easily. So when she pulled it hurt, almost as much as if she had pulled my real beard. I yelped, an Irish-accented Santa yelp, still in character. The beard didn’t come off. Mom stumbled backward. And this wonderful little boy looked up at me, beaming, and said “He is! He is the real Santa Claus!”

And I was.

I still wonder what happened to that kid. He’d be in his late teens now, or maybe even 20. I can imagine that he didn’t have much of a childhood, and I hope he’s okay, but I spent a lot of time reporting in the courts and I know where kids like that end up.

But wherever he is, I hope he has at least a slight memory of the year he met the real Santa Claus.

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Confessions of a Shopping Mall Santa, Part 1

November 9, 2008

(This is the first in a series that will appear occasionally, leading up to Christmas)

I believe in Santa Claus. And here’s why:

In 1996, I was laid off from my job as a daily newspaper reporter. I had some assurances that it would be temporary, so I was hesitant to uproot my wife and son and move to a new city. A friend who handled marketing for a local shopping centre called one day and offered me a job: Santa.

This wouldn’t be my first time in costume. I had been working as one of those giant mascots for a while, dressing up as a big cookie, a dairy cow, a rolled-up newspaper and various strange creatures on both a volunteer and paying basis. It was a lot of fun. I love kids, and love entertaining them. The first time my little guy realized it was his daddy under the mask was one of the best moments of my life.

Santa Claus, though, was a different challenge. For one thing, I was 28, tall and skinny and pretty brown. “No problem,” my friend assured me. “We have a top-of-the-line Santa suit.”

She wasn’t kidding. This thing was gorgeous. Red velour, white faux fur, real leather boots and gloves, a big lush cap … the beard and wig were snow-white. We had to invest in a second artificial belly to fill it out, but once it was on and I was parked on the big throne in Santa’s Workshop for our test run, I looked the part.

I used spirit gum for the beard. For one thing, it felt better. For another, it looked more real. I have never liked fake-looking mall Santas; this beard was of such good quality that once it was glued on, it looked like part of me.

My first appearance was scheduled for right after the city’s Santa Claus Parade. I was to make a grand entrance, work the crowd, and head to the Workshop to start visiting with kids and getting pictures taken. I thought there might be a hundred people. There were more than a thousand. And I don’t like crowds.

I stood there, panicking, my “helpers” urging me forward, and I pretty much decided “Nope, this is not for me.” I almost quit right there. But then … I still can’t explain it, but everything changed. I was suddenly an ancient elf, smaller, fatter and, for some reason, Irish. I moved through that crowd, my eyes twinkling, my fake belly indeed jiggling like a bowlful of jelly. I was hugged by about 500 children in less than 20 minutes. And when I sat down on that big chair, I had a line of visitors that snaked off past the Saint Cinnamon in the food court, which is pretty far, trust me.

That first night was a blur. I barely remember any of it, except that I was chatting with kids in a lilting brogue (and I can’t do accents, not then and not now) and somehow, miraculously, knowing exactly what each kid wanted for Christmas, almost all the time. I had a wonderful time, but I did not feel like myself. Someone, something, was speaking through me.

I had been hired to work every day, seven days a week, from mid-November until Christmas Eve, 9 a.m to 9 p.m., noon to five on Sundays. It was a big workload. And I loved every minute of it. Because whatever Santa Claus is, whatever the spirit of Christmas is, it parked itself in a skinny brown mall Santa and brought the real deal to a lot of kids.

That’s not to say there weren’t some bizarre misadventures mixed in with the shining moments. I’ll share more of them in the weeks to come.

Ho ho ho.

Part 2

(Note: I’m looking for the photos from that Christmas.)