OK, so it sounds a little childish. Mr. Moo got dressed up in red the last two weekends to head to a super-store to play Santa Claus. I was first asked by a friend to give it a try and I enjoyed it last year so I decided to try it again this year. 8 hours at Wal-Mart in Sioux City dressed liked the jolly old elf. "Stop by and get a picture of your child and Santa compliments of the photo department", said the announcement of the public address system.
During my eight hours I learned a lot about myself. First of all, I learned I loved kids. It doesn't matter who they were, what they looked like or how old they were. The snot nosed kid. The little ones that were so frightened. The skeptical 10 year olds. The teenagers just wanting to have fun. For the most part, I loved the grownups too. Mom's that would hold the scared and screaming 2 year old while both sat on Santa's lap were common place. (No big deal, I'm having knee surgery the day after Christmas.) I heard "Just go stand next to Santa so we can get a picture." more than once. And the Wal-Mart employees lined up to have their pictures taken.
But I also learned a lot about the world in general. Watching people was one thing but the comments were … well, priceless.
It was very common to have the children respond to the question, "What do you want for Christmas?" with just one item.
Barbies. Monster trucks. Spongebob Monopoly. Brats. Remote control cars.
Only one child asked for an MP3 player. I told her Santa didn't even have one of those. But if Mrs. Claus would get me one, she could have one too. I said this only after seeing mom standing behind the daughter shaking her head yes.
But better than 2/3 of the kids only asked for one thing. I wanted to assume parents had told the kids that it would be tough financially this year because of the economy but it seemed more than that. The kids really seemed to be content with one special gift. And that was my … ahh, Santa's job.
One 9 year old girl told me she knew I wasn't Santa because I was wearing a fake beard. I told her that I cut my beard short over the summer and it didn't grow back fast enough. I let her peek under my fake beard to see a real white beard. Her older brother bought it. I don't think did. But it was cute that she looked.
The spiritual side came when a little girl asked me if I knew what Christmas was all about. I said yes, it was about a baby being born a long time ago that was a gift of love from God. She smiled and I knew I had a friend for life with her.
Another family of three came up and the boy (middle child) climbed up first. What do you want for Christmas?, I asked. "Nothing" he replied. "Really, I hear you've been very good this year, why do not want anything?" He answered floored me. "Santa, I have everything I want. A Mom and Dad, two sisters, a nice home and nobody's sick. What else do I need?" I fought back the tears on that one.
The little girl of 6 who just wanted to hug the stuffings out of Santa for no reason other than well, I was Santa.
There was a 3 year old girl that was too afraid to come over to me but as she left the area, she called my name and blew me a kiss. I blew one back.
The look on the faces was priceless of the lilly white family of three kids when I began to speak Spanish to a lady that walked by. One of the kids turned to his folks and said "it really is Santa."
There was quite a finale that seem to make it worthwhile. A little boy came and sat on my lap and told me had been a good boy and was working hard in school when I asked the questions. His parents nodded as to agree. He said he wanted a small item, probably worth $15 or $20. The photographer took the picture. I gave him his candy cane. He walked back to his parents. And then the most touching thing happened. This little boy of about 4, ran back over to me, had me bend down and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
Life doesn't get any better than that.