One day, I was at Moomba. I had the hat and glasses on, and there was a party with about ten children. A mom came up to me, and asked if I could take pictures. I said sure, and put on my suit. Of course, I just had to play with the children as well. So, they are asking me all these questions, and I enjoyed answering them (when I am Santa, I talk like a real guy, and I don't pretend to be anyone else but me) So, each child started sitting on my lap taking pictures, and telling me what they want for Christmas (as a rule, I hate doing this, and try to avoid this type of situation. I just don't like lying to kids, and believe my Santa is not about just the gifts) But anyway, I am having a lot of fun, but each child was asking for computers (they aged from 5-10) and other really expensive things.
So, I got angry I told them whatever happened to simple toys. I had elves working for me, not Bill Gates (the parents all laughed at this one) So finally, I told the children that the elves make the best wooden shoes, and doesn't anybody want wooden shoes (once again, I have no idea why I said wooden shoes, but it came out) So, I was making this huge deal about wooden shoes, and some of the older girls were just laughing and having a good time. And they really believed I was Santa.
Okay, fast foward to about a week and a half later, December 27. I was doing one of my beach walks (it just gave tourists a great chance to take pictures with me) And all of the sudden, I hear this woman say Santa, I have a huge problem with you I turn around surprised. It turns out, she was the mother of one of the girls at the party. She told me that for a week prior to Christmas, her daughter kept talking about wooden shoes, and how Santa Claus was going to give them to her for Christmas. The mother was telling me that finding wooden shoes on Aruba three days before Christmas was not as easy as it sounded, but she eventually did. Of course, the mother wasn't angry with me, but she just relayed that story to me.
Two things: The first is that this story just shows the power of the suit. This girl was so set on getting different things, that I am sure when she saw those wooden shoes, the same ones Santa had told her would be there, it made it that more special. Number two is that mother, going to those great lengths so her nine year old daughter believes in Santa for at least one more year. I have a feeling those shoes will be around for awhile.
In Aruba, there is a long stretch of beach that have the high rise hotels. Moomba was towards the end of that stretch, and I used to walk along the beach with my Santa hat on. ACtually, it was when I was first down in Aruba in November when I got the idea that Santa might actually work. I had walked from my motel to Moomba with my Santa hat on, and the reaction I got was great. So, the first time, I just walked to the end and back (I think it took me about an hour, maybe more) and it was pretty cool. People would just say these fun comments to me, and some children were just in shock. It gave people a chance to take pictures with me, and I met many people.
The comments people would say to me were funny, and I learned some good comebacks. For instance, many people would ask me for presents. I would apologize, and tell them I was the Santa that brought smiles, not presents (its a lot cheaper this year) Adults loved this line. When children would ask, I would tell them they had to wait for Christmas. I would also take my Santa hat off repeatedly during these walks. I did this to show people it was my real hair and beard, and some of their faces dropped. When kids would challenge me for being a fake, I would let them pull my beard and scream at them that I was the real Santa. ( I can't imagine how this looked to people, but everybody just seemed to like it) I never really said Merry Christmas, but instead would use my favorite Happy HO HO HOlidays. Anything for a smile.
But as I started to do these walks, things changed for me. I tried to go at least once a day, and if I was feeling good, would walk again right around sunset ( I wanted that perfect picture for the tourists) In the beginning, these walks were strictly for the tourists. I would engage with anyone that engaged with me. You see, I portrayed my Santa to be just another guy, and was not the Rah RAh Rah guy that you might imagine. If people wanted to talk, I would talk. People would be in the water and say such nice things. It was weird for me, and sometimes I could only put my head down and smile. This was the reaction I expected, and thought this would be the highlight of my walks. I found myself to be entirely wrong.
Along the beaches in Aruba, you have many people working the water sports. There would be tents set up, as well as the guys in the boats. My first few walks, I concentrated on the tourists, because that is who I thought I was there to entertain. But what started happening was people would call me over to the tents, introduce themselves, and have brief conversations. Soon, I would walk bye, all of the people working would give me respect. From the guys on the boats, to even some security guards, they seemed thrilled that I was there. There reaction was incredible to me, and totally unexpected. I soon found myself walking the beach for them, not really the tourists.
Now, I am not sure how many people have been to Aruba, but the weather is perfect. I can't tell you the temperature, because it didn't matter. It was hot, but not unbearable. Wearing my Santa hat, which is made for winter conditions, would make it even hotter. I didn't really feel anything though, because the fun I was having made everything worth it. And that is why I was able to do what I did next: Where my full Santa suit walking the beach.
Now, I had no plans to do this. In fact, I had no plans when I went to Aruba, which is the reason why it was so much fun. I would always bring my Santa suit to Moomba and keep it in my bag. I would put it on, mostly at night, or if I had some function to do. However, it was because of the reaction I got from those guys working that prompted me to wear the suit. Maybe it was unnecessary, but I did it for those guys working the beach. Sure, many of them have seen me dressed up, but this was different.
As I walked the beach as Santa, the reaction was overwhelming. Sure, many of the tourists took pictures with me, and that was expected. I was barefoot, and walking in the water a bit. I thought it was a nice touch, and I know this might sound funny, but this was my way of thanking those guys for accepting me. I did not care how hot I was. These guys work hard everyday, and have fun doing it. They helped make my experience special, and the Santa suit was done for them. God Bless ARuba!!
When dressing like Santa, one sees many reactions, especially from children. Many children want to just touch me, they all love to see a smile from me, and I am a big deal to them. However, there are children that not only doesn't like Santa, but will cry at the mere sight of me. And I am not even talking about when I have my suit on. Some would cry when I would just have the hat and sunglasses on. I have read different books on being Santa, and there are many reasons why children cry. In Aruba, they have both Santa and Sinterklaas, the Dutch version. Sinterklaas is a crazy tradition in which kids are told that if they are bad, Sinterklaas will kidnap them, put them in a bag, beat them with a stick, and send them to Spain. Like I said, pretty crazy.
In America, it is not much different. Children are told that Santa Claus is always watching them, making a list to find out who is naughty or nice. Many parents use Santa as a way to control their children, especially around the holidays, and makes these children feel paranoid. Whatever the reason, some children just don't like Santa.
This girl was no different. She was about 4 or 5, and was with a group of about ten adults, with a younger girl as well. When the two first saw me, they cried uncontrollably. I didn't even do anything, yet they cried. They would hide behind their parents, and would watch my every move. I would have to walk by them sometimes (it couldn't be helped) and they would just lose it. This kind of stuff went on for a couple of days. I would of course apologize to the parents, but they knew it had nothing to do with me. This girl was so cute, and I really wanted to make her like me.
Then on the third or fourth day, it happened. I was sitting at the bar, really tired ( being Santa in Aruba was exhausting, and I was always "on") I looked up, and saw the girl again. But this time, she didn't run and hide. Don't get me wrong. She didn't run up and give me a hug either. But she didn't cry, and I knew I had her. I think the father saw her change in reaction, and played along. This girl had seen me for the past few days, acting like everyone else, which I think helped. I started doing what I do best: engaging with a child. I had only my Santa hat on, and I would do the little peak a boos. But with me, I would put my hat over my eyes, and stuff like that. She watched my every move, and began to smile. She was in her father's arms, so she probably felt safe. There I was, engaging with this child for over an hour, not caring what was going on around me. She then started laughing out loud, and it made me feel unbelievable. I tried explaining the significance to the bartender, but he looked at me like I had three heads. Here was a little girl that would cry at the mere sight of me, and now she was laughing with me. And boy, what a pretty smile. My work had paid off, and I believe I helped change this little girl's perception of Santa.
Now, I love this story. It proved to me that every child wants to smile, and the fears that they have of Santa can be overcomed. I wish I could do this for every child that cries, but I normally don't have that kind of time. It might sound weird to some people that a 31 year old guy would care that much about a young girl's smile, and I am sure there are people that would feel uncomfortable about it. But I have learned that children are honest. I worked hard for that smile, and it was moments like these when I truly feel blessed to be allowed to engage with children like this. Her smile was definately a highlight to the trip.