He is perhaps the most well-known man in town. In his bright red suit folks can see him coming from a mile away. His big white beard is a head turner.
In his little town he is not only the man who takes children on his knee but he embodies the spirit of the season like no other as he wanders the streets in the hours before he takes to his big chair in his village house in the town square every evening.
He is Santa Claus, of course.
Every Thanksgiving Day he emerges from his nearly year-long absence to highlight the end of the Thanksgiving Day parade – the symbol to all that the Christmas season has begun.
But he doesn’t show up a minute earlier. And once he leaves town on Christmas Eve, he doesn’t come back.
“Santa is as seasonal at the tree,” the town librarian explains to me, with a twinkle in her eye. “When it is Christmas, he’s here. He answers questions. He listens to Christmas wishes. He spreads good will, brings smiles and provides service. This he does all in the open. But when it is time for Santa to do his real job, well, he works in secret. That’s what makes Santa what he is. He is and always has been a man of mystery.”
Of course, being July, tracking down Santa is impossible for me. But I found a man who looks suspiciously like him. He’s clean shaven but he is big, jovial and he has that twinkle in his eye too.
His name is Tom and yes, he claims to know Santa in this little Utah town.
Tom is a local merchant. He is a volunteer fireman and a member of the town council. He tells me that he personally arranges it for Santa to come to his town every year.
But, of course, he won’t reveal his sources or even how he makes contact with the Big Guy.
But that is not my purpose in asking him about his town’s Santa.
I wrote about this town’s Santa several years ago and told his story — and I want to talk to him again.
How would I go about getting hold of him in July?
“You can’t,” Tom said. “He’s too busy. Between Christmas and next Thanksgiving he is practically unreachable. Where he is and what he is doing is a mystery to all and that is the way he wants it.”
But why? Lots of people celebrate Christmas in July, I explained. I figured now would be a great time to catch up with Santa and talk about his season ahead.
Tom smiled at me. “For a guy who knows a lot about Christmas you clearly don’t know much about Santa Claus.”
Those are fighting words for me. Tom could tell I didn’t appreciate them.
“You live in a world of year round Christmas because you love Christmas,” Tom explained. “Santa loves Christmas too. But where you two differ is that you can celebrate and be there year round. Santa is so famous, so popular and so beloved of people that even when he shows up in a t-shirt, shorts and flip- flops he has to be that guy to everyone. He likes being that guy at Christmas. But the rest of the year he would rather be the traditional Claus – that guy who gives in secret and that nobody sees.”
Tom had me confused.
After all, what is wrong with Santa in July?
Tom said there are five reasons why Santa is not only unavailable the rest of the year but that he makes specific efforts to be completely invisible to the public until that moment comes on Thanksgiving Day:
1. Christmas is not about him. – Santa says his biggest problem every year is fighting over the fuss that is made about him by local TV stations, newspapers and even school assemblies. Santa just wants to focus on the children – one by one. He wants to teach them what Christmas is about by showing them how Christmas is done through quiet, personal service.
2. Santa needs no publicist and doesn’t want a job. – Santa abhors attention. He doesn’t like talking about himself. He’d rather talk about kids and what they like and what they think. The more Santa is around the more he is asked to endorse products, places of business or even people of prominence. He is the patron saint of children – not a pitchman.
3. Anticipation is delicious. – Santa believes that if he comes too soon or stays too long that people won’t appreciate his role or even what he does. Knowing that Santa comes – and he always comes – makes his message more meaningful. If he is always around Santa says it is like eating candy for supper everyday – you get kind of sick of it after a while.
4. Absence fertilizes the soil of the imagination. – The fact that Santa works in secret means there are always questions, especially from children. Christmas, he says, is like a seed. It sits there in the mind all year, with swirling images in the imagination of what it is and what it is all about. By the time the season comes the magic is in full force in the imagination of a believer. Santa says that if he is ever present that magic is diminished.
5. Santa is no Christmas creep. – In recent years sensitivities have grown in regards to Christmas out of season. The media has taken to calling it “Christmas creep”. Santa says some of these thoughts have merit. While he cannot do a thing about advertisers using his image Santa himself doesn’t want to add to the debate by coming too soon. He’d prefer to stay in seclusion, doing his “secret work”.
Tom’s explanations make sense to me. As I consider what this Santa is to this small community what I see is a smart, mission-sensitive effort to craft a proper appreciation of Christmas and of the character of Santa Claus.
I told Tom that I will wait my turn to talk to Santa when he comes to town – after Thanksgiving.