By Gary Davis
Gary Davis is an IT professional and an actor in the Twin Cities.
Why do I play Santa Claus? I've been doing it a long time. I guess because it makes me feel good.
There is no feeling quite like the one you get when a young boy or girl sees you as Santa. Or, for that matter, when anyone else does. I find that people of all ages get a kick out of Santa.
I have also found that Santa crosses other demographic lines: gender, religion, nationality and political standing, to name a few. I have visited Catholic schoolrooms and Hindu parties, and the reception is always the same.
Like many of my Santa brethren, I feel a close affinity with the real Santa, and feel I am helping him in his mission. I like working with children. It helps that I have the right physical appearance, but that's not all there is to it.
My preparations start with donning the Santa suit. Up until a few years ago, I also had to dye my beard, but nature has taken care of that. Just as some actors start becoming their characters as they get into costume, I find that I start talking and acting like Santa as I dress. My voice becomes lighter, the traditional Santa ho-ho-ho starts deep in my chest, and my smile becomes broader.
People sometimes recognize me as Santa even without the suit. I was in Creative Kidstuff a few years ago when my wife pointed out several kids huddled up and peeking over my way. A few minutes later a 6-year-old boy tugged at my sleeve and asked, "Are you Santa Claus?"
I put a finger to my lips and nodded. He ran back to his friends, and over the next several minutes they all came over to tell me what they wanted for Christmas.
The next step is driving to the event where I'm scheduled to appear. I like to use this time to think about who I'm visiting and sing some holiday songs to get in the mood. People on the street or in other cars wave to me, and I wave back. People like to see Santa passing by.
But the real joy comes in meeting and talking with the kids. I see some of the same families year after year, and I love to see how the kids are growing.
They approach in different ways. One will come slowly, head down, with a little embarrassed smile. Another will run and leap and almost knock me off my chair. Another will snuggle, sinking his or her head into the fur of my suit. One will say, "I love you, Santa," and another will demand, "Where's your reindeer? Huh?" And sometimes there is a little brother or sister who won't approach until an older sibling proves it's OK. You never know and you need to be watchful so you can respond the right way.
At the end of the visit, I ask each child to do me a favor. I ask him or her to do something nice for someone that day. I can't remember a child ever refusing.
There are complications to being Santa. I don't have much free time on weekends in December, and that presents challenges for holiday socializing. But it helps to have an understanding wife and family.
And it's important to keep the real Christmas story separate from the one that's all about toys and presents. One thing I won't do is let Santa interfere with my being in church on Christmas Eve. Santa's last visit has to be completed by 4 p.m. that day, no matter what.
If anyone asks, I'm feeding my reindeer.