A Hoptown Chronicle advent story

How a good Santa Claus learns the gift of providing some hope for the season

A woman, obviously sad, stopped to speak to the mall Santa. What could he say to help her?

Something I did as a boy has set the tone for me of every Christmas since that time. Never mind what it was just now. Suffice it to say that it changed my view of Christmas forever. Perhaps because of this dramatic change in me, I find myself in the incredible position of being Santa Claus.

George Fillingham

This Becoming of mine began in 1999 out east in Hazard and a bit later that same month (December) in Knott County. Apparently, I was exactly the right man at exactly the right moment because quickly and quietly my reputation as a “good Santa” grew and I was called on to BE Santa several more times before the 25th closed the action and I went back to being just plain George, English teacher and curious personality.

After my temporary position as English teacher ended, I returned to Hopkinsville seeking another job. As it happened there was a place available at TV-43 as a crew worker, so I began learning a new trade as a master control operator and caption machine operator during newscasts. The station manager was looking to revisit the annual Santa Vision segments and he asked me to don the suit for that purpose. That segment quickly grew from a half hour to an hour and from once a month to once a week to twice a week to on location at the local mall where I had begun working for some extra income as a “Mall Santa.” Once again, my Santa reputation grew. And it is this event that I choose to speak of.

I had begun visiting with children and found that just being myself apparently was the appropriate way to approach being Santa Claus in such a surrounding. One day an adult woman walked by and I said, as I am wont to say, being Santa, “Merry Christmas.” She stopped and looked at me and then asked, “Santa, can I talk to you for a minute?” I said, “Of course you can.” She didn’t let on but I could tell that she was sad and upset. So I said, slapping my knee, “Step into my office.” She took the jest in her humor and stepped up and took a seat on my lap. Then she told me her story.

“Santa, I don’t know what to do. I feel as though my family is drifting apart and I don’t know what to do. Christmas is a time for family and I am afraid of what is going to become of us all. Can you help me, Santa?”

On one level I was taken aback completely but on a deeper level I felt this was my job as Santa and I had to choose wisely my next few words. I told her this:

“My goodness. Here you are with arms full of Christmas but a heart full of winter. (I chuckled a little.)

“Well, you came to the right person. I am not as wise as I am sometimes given credit for being but it doesn’t take a gypsy to read the sadness in your face. Christmas will come and go whether we want it or not, whether we’re ready for it or not. You are doing great things to bring joy to your family and those efforts will be rewarded, you just wait and see. You do your part and I will do mine and together we will make Christmas a joy, OK?”

She got up and thanked me in a sort of half-hearted way but agreed to try her best. After she left, I got to thinking about the utter helplessness of being Santa Claus. I can do nothing, so I must be sure to make no promises. I have nothing to give, so I must be careful of the things I say. And yet I must say something and it must be as close to appropriate as I can muster. Did I say the right thing? Did I say something that would encourage and not offend or sadden? 

I was stirred from these reveries by the next child and his mother and the photographs to follow. I could have just left this all to the turning of time but this was not to be. 

The next year I am Santa at the Mall again and taking photos with children and dogs and cats and even a rooster named Fat Boy. During a lull in the continual traipse, a woman and a younger woman and an infant stopped by. I greeted them as always with “Merry Christmas.” The older woman looked at me with a smile and said, “You don’t remember me, do you?”

I said, “Well you have to remember that I see a lot of people …”

But she interrupted me, saying, “Last year I came to you, saying how my family was falling apart …”

I re-interrupted, saying, “Of course, I remember. I know exactly who you are.”

She continued, “Remember how I told you about my family? Well, not two weeks after I talked with you my daughter who I hadn’t seen in 10 years came by with my granddaughter and made the best Christmas. And it’s all because of you.”

She sat on my lap and we all had a photo together and they quickly moved on, leaving me dumbfounded but stunned with a strange sort of inner light. No one else knows this little private Christmas miracle. I share it now with you and thus spill the jelly beans. My private Christmas miracle always humbles me.

Merry Christmas.

(George Fillingham is an Army brat who now lives in Hopkinsville where he writes poetry and is at work on a novel. His youngest son was killed several years ago now, but his life haunts George to this day. His eldest boy is a successful computer tech with two kids of his own in Western Missouri. George has been Santa since 1998 and is privileged to be Santa for some of the boys and girls of Hopkinsville.)