I’m sorry it’s been awhile since I’ve written. I think I was 11 the last time I wrote to you. That’s a shame in and of itself, especially since you were so diligent in writing back to me.
Because I’m publishing this letter as a newspaper column, some people might wonder why I’d write to someone who’s clearly a fictional character.
That’s their loss, Santa.
When I was eight years old, you came to the A&W in Port Hastings with “The Great A&W Root Bear.” I didn’t have a letter for you then (sorry) but I did have one for the Root Bear. A couple of weeks later, the long-time Strait area A&W franchise owner, Graham Cameron, kindly sent me a handwritten letter with a batch of A&W coupons that, according to Mr. Cameron, came at the request of “Rootie” himself. (I still have that letter and those long-expired coupons today.)
I’m sharing that Christmas memory to help drive home a point: If children invest their heart and their imagination into believing that the fictional is real, then it is indeed real.
And that’s why I know you’re not an imaginary character, a product of the Coca-Cola company, or a cultural misappropriation of St. Nicholas. I know that, like Mickey Mouse, you are not a soulless, callous symbol of greed, materialism or capitalism, but a caring individual trying to do good for the people of the world.
I hope you’re not thrown by the Mickey Mouse comparison, Santa. I know he evolved from a doodle on Walt Disney’s sketchpad. But I’ve also known for a long time that if I ever fulfil my decades-long dream of going to a Disney park, I’m going to shake Mickey’s hand. And it will be a meaningful handshake.
On those occasions when I’ve been lucky enough to shake your own gloved hand, Santa, you always greeted me – and anyone around me – with joy and cheer. Cathy and I have seen you many times, and even had our picture taken with you, when the two of us led the music at the annual St. George’s Channel Christmas Carol Sing over the past 15 years. We knew without a doubt that you were the real deal.
You see, Santa, you probably don’t realize the lift you bring to adults, as well as children. Sometimes you pick us up when we’re truly struggling, which happens more regularly during the Christmas season than you might expect.
When I met you in my early 20s at Halifax’s Park Lane Shopping Centre, I was at a low ebb in my life. I was bombing my radio course at the King’s College School of Journalism, getting C’s and D’s when I was used to getting A’s and B’s.
I was due for cataract surgery in my right eye, which was getting markedly cloudier over the fall, nearly a year after receiving two major retina surgeries. I felt vulnerable, alone and fragile, even breaking down in tears in the office of the King’s journalism school director when I went to appeal one of my lower grades on an assignment.
I needed something to go right. I needed something to bring light into the darkness. So, for my final radio assignment of the term, I decided to interview Santa Claus.
The nice people at Park Lane told me that you were a driving instructor named Frank in “real life” (whatever that is) but that I was only allowed to interview you as Santa. I shrugged. No problem, I figured. I only wanted to interview Santa anyway.
You couldn’t have possibly been kinder or more enthusiastic that night, Santa. Your joy and energy resulted in one the best interviews I’ve ever done. Your quick wit and creativity matched up perfectly with even the more bizarre questions I had for you, including a query about whether the elves were unionized. And I still have the picture that we took together at the end of the night, where you gaily announced, “Here’s the next Peter Mansbridge!” before the flash went off.
I got an A on that assignment, Santa. It was my first A of the term, and it gave me the confidence to have a much better post-Christmas run at King’s. (Successful cataract surgery didn’t hurt, either.)
All of this has guided me in the rare moments that I have been honoured to have the opportunity to take on your red suit, Santa. As an adolescent, I played you five times at our family Christmas parties in L’Ardoise, and as an adult, I’ve donned your beard and cap on stage, radio and TV. I hope I’m even coming close to doing you justice.
Thank you for decades of kindness and inspiration, Santa. Merry Christmas.