In the 1940’s
my Dad, a young Jewish man, got a job as a Santa Claus at Macy’s Department
Store in New Rochelle, New York. A spirit came over him that transcends
all religions. After work he roamed the streets as Santa. Somehow he was
guided to play “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” on an accordion,
despite the fact that he had never played a musical instrument before. Children
squealed with joy as he brought them little toys and ministered to the sick.
He wandered into the home of a paraplegic Irishman, eliciting glee in his
eyes and gratitude from the family who patted him on the back and offered
a shot of whisky. “Thanks, but I don’t drink,” Santa replied.
Their faces were puzzled: this couldn’t be one of their friends. Who
was this mysterious soul behind the long white beard?
year around my dad carried “Little Turtles of Happiness” in
his pocket and gave them away. He’d withdraw their little rubber heads
and legs into their shells, and talk about how sometimes we want to just
withdraw and hide from the pain of the world. Then he'd nuzzle two turtles
together, and out would pop their little heads! “The power of love
brings us out of our shells,” he would explain. My father’s
name was Leon, which is NOEL spelled backwards.
When I was 4 ½ years old, my mom died, and my dad was so heartbroken
he lost the Santa spirit. Year later, after I graduated from College I bought
him a Santa suit for his birthday. As he opened the surprise gift, he gasped: “My
clothes. I haven’t worn my clothes in 30 years!” He began doing
Santa again to the delight of Children at the Friends Meeting.
One Christmas. to cheer up a friend in the hospital, I
borrowed my dad’s suit. My friend was heartened by my visit, and afterwards
I went to the children’s ward with a bag of toys. The kids looked
miserable – burned faces, legs hoisted up in traction, an arm in a
sling. All of a sudden they spotted me and the misery vanished. “Santa,”
As the kid in the sling one-handedly played with his spinning
gizmo I knew that this was bigger than me, bigger than a man in a red suit.
When you don the magic robes, you suddenly become what all religions preach:
one! All who are filled with the spirit of giving are the real Santa Claus.
As the kids played happily, I slipped away to go home. “Wouldn’t
you like to visit some of the other wards, Santa?” the nurse asked.
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“Well, I don’t know,” I said, a little
embarrassed. “Adults aren’t going to want some guy in a Santa
suit bothering them.” But she convinced me to give it a try. In the
first room, an elderly woman gripped my hand. “Santa,” she said
with a pained smile, “I’m so glad you came. I just found out
that I’m dying.” Choking up, I couldn’t speak so I just
looked serenely in her face, and held her hand for what felt like an eternity.
A look of peace came over her eyes as I had the joy of being the carrier
of that universal spirit.
I became Santa like my papa Noel. In Santa Fe, I had the
thrill of giving away an entire toy-store full of toys. At Casa Real retirement
home, I danced with ladies in their walkers. On Southwest airlines people
asked me to present their gifts to loved ones and the pilot announced on
the intercom the progress of my reindeer dashing along side.
When Molly’s mom was in a nursing home, I had no
gifts for grownups, so I tried giving out the only toys I had, stuffed animals.
Some smiled, some laughed, some hugged their toys and cried. “Some
of them have been non-responsive for years,” said an amazed nurse. “Somehow
you must have awakened a memory from their childhood.”
Although my dad passed away at age 86, I feel his spirit
coming alive in the playful joy of Christmas. I can almost hear him saying: “Santa
is my son!”
For the past few years I’ve grown out my beard as
the solstice approached, bleached it white, and donned the magic robes to
do Santa for poor children in Mexico. The wonderful beach community of La
Mision is filled with the finest elves, rivaling the North pole. These friends
and the Airline Ambassadors have donated thousands of toys for me to give
away to children.