Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ho Ho Shh!

I am all about the magic of Christmas. 

"A million reasons to Believe" according to Macy*s. 

I am right there staring wide-eyed with optimism while Santa and the elves swirl magical Christmas enchantment around an eager populace.  I am that guy singing Christmas carols, spreading optimistic good will towards my fellow man and bouncing through each day with a smile on my face.

Belief!  Belief in possibilities!  That's me.

So, in 1989 when I read in the newspaper that Macy*s was looking for 'a few good elves' to work in SANTALAND at the "World's Largest Department Store" in NYC - the setting for that classic Christmas tear-jerker Miracle on 34th Street - I thought "oh yeah.  Sign me up!"

I scheduled an interview and met with a very pleasant woman at the 34th street offices.  I bounded in, full of enthusiasm and smiles.  I explained why I wanted to be an elf with an earnest childlike innocence and she fell for me.  At the end of the interview she said my spirit was perfect for the qualities they look for in their Santas and offered me that job.  

"Wow!"  says I  "I came in to be an elf and leave as Santa!"  It's like going out for a supporting role and ending up with the lead. Yippee!!

She calmed me down here to tell me that ALL ROLES are equal. No one is more important than anyone else here at SANTALAND.  I thought, "That's right.  All those kids line up to meet an elf."  But whatever, I was going to be Santa Claus at Macy*s.  

Due to a prior commitment I was unable to attend the training over the Thanksgiving holiday. I showed up for my first day rather nervous.  The more experienced, older Santas took me under their wing and explained the process; move the line along, pose for a picture with the kids and send in the next one.  No worries.  Just don't spend too long with anyone child because the lines are so long.

I was told that there are five Santa houses with one Santa waiting in each to keep things moving smoothly.  All one big family operating like a well-oiled machine.  Fantastic!

They have quite a production team in place.  I was escorted to the costume department where I was assigned my own Santa suit. An amazingly intricate and detailed piece of finery that was truly awe inspiring.  I met my personal hair and makeup person (loved her). The Santa wig and beard are set every evening and they showed me how to put them on, along with the eyebrows. By the time I was finished only a bit of my own face peered through.  Oh, and don't forget the glasses.

I was a hit; at first.  There was buzz about this young 'kid' (I was 25) who was the skinniest Santa in the history of SANTALAND (At 5'10" I weighed about 145lbs).  

On the first day I was lead to my house and sat down on Santa's throne.  Surrounded by toys, elves and Christmas music I felt excited.  But, it was hot under the lights wearing all that padding under my heavy costume with hair everywhere.  My house elf kept bringing me water to sip through a straw but I just sat there sweating like crazy. 

I was uncomfortable!

I decided to make the most of it though and thoroughly enjoyed chatting with the small children and happy adults. I guess I enjoyed it a little too much because I was told I was taking too long with each group and should remember "In and out" as fast as possible. Smile, click, see you on Christmas Eve and "Next".  

But who can stop me when I'm on?  

The other issue was that I was a very loud "Ho Ho Ho'er".  I got into the hearty belly laugh so much that I was repeatedly told to keep it down.  It seems that children sitting on Santa's lap in the houses next door (separated only by a thin wall) could hear another Santa. That didn't go over well as it spoiled the magic.  But I couldn't help myself.  

And I evidently didn't push for the pics as much as I should have.

It was lonely as a Santa.  Never out of costume, God forbid if I dropped character for even a moment while in the costume. I had to eat lunch alone in the back hallway next to the lockers. I was hot, losing weight, too loud, too talkative and couldn't wait for this gig to end (which it did, on Christmas Eve with me refusing to stay late.)  

I got a lovely t-shirt for my involvement (see above) and a stash of extra cash that I saved to travel Europe for two months the following May/June.  

Macy*s didn't invite me back the following year (I would have turned them down anyway - so there.) I only have three photos of this time.  Two of me standing in the back hallway in full costume which I can't find.  And one with my friend James, who was an elf, sitting on my lap. He has it framed and has promised to lend it to me so I can add it to this post.  We'll see.

"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!" 


tut-tut said...

hey, what a great story/memory! I hope you post that picture. Didn't a rather famous writer/raconteur begin by telling the story of being an elf for Macy*s?

Gary said...

I know that David Sedaris wrote a play about this a while back but I can't remember the title at the moment.

Happy Holidays!!

franm said...

It was such a nice surprise to see my book, LATKES AND APPLESAUCE on your site! Thanks so much!

Barbara said...

I think you would make a perfect Santa. Too bad there were so many rules!

Merry, merry Christmas!

Mom said...

Merry Christmas my Happy BABY! I LOVE YOU!!! Your greatest fan! Love Always, Mom xxxooo

Joy Keaton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joy Keaton said...

Hey Mr. Ho-Ho-HO. I seem to remember taking you to see Miracle on 34th Street at the Chelsea for the first time in what was it, 2001?? How a Santa went that long without seeing that flick... It's so sad that you and James were working there three years after my mother finally took me to see The Real Santa. Can you imagine how hilarious if we just stumbled onto YOU as Santa???

Barry said...

What a wonderful experience to have!

I once played Santa at my wife's School's Christmas party, but (of course) that wasn't Macy's!

I recall how uncomfortable the costume was though and I only had to be in it for an hour!

J. David Zacko-Smith said...

Gary - as usual, a wonderful story. Now that we've met in person I have a better sense of the gentle and sweet place your writing comes from. On a related note, your post talks a lot about possibility . . . and I was just thinking to myself yesterday that, while I'm in love with the present, I'm also in love with possibility. I think I always have been, and always will be. There is something powerful and attractive about what is possible. Of course, I am a professor teaching creative studies . . . so you might expect me to say something like this. Happy holidays!

J. David Zacko-Smith said...

I think the Sedaris play was part of the Santaland Diaries?

Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

A wonderful story and one that I hope you consider submitting somewhere to reach an even larger audience. I hope those photos do turn up soon. Actually, even 19 years later I think you'd make a very convincing elf, cheerful and just a little bit sly.

ciara said...

omgosh what a sight that would have been! :) well, matters not what the corporate peeps thought of your santa only what magic you brought to all those children & the many smiles that i'm sure you put on their faces. :)

hope you had a wonderful's to lots of love, laughter, and happiness in the new year xo

Gary said...

Fran - No, Thank YOU! We read your book every year - it has become a holiday staple. And thank you for leaving a comment. That is just the sort of thing that makes me giggle like a school girl (Not sure why that was the first parallel that came to mind but suffice it to say that I was excited to see you commented, in a manly way of course).

Barbara - There were many wonderful moments but I kept thinking how much better it would be if I could just sit there as myself and chat with all these people.

Mom - I'm your greatest fan too. Merry Christmas to you and daddy.

Joy - I know. Hard to believe I never saw the movie straight through until that night. Only in bits here and there. I don't think you stopped in to see me as Santa but it would have been a trip. Maria came in with two children and I was prepared. They were really freaked that I knew their names and details of their year of both naughty and nice. LOL. I love those moments.

Barry - An hour is long enough. After the Macy's gig EVERYBODY wanted me to play Santa. I never imagined myself as Santa before that but got used to the role. I haven't done that in years but would probably fit the suit much better now. :) Thanks for reading.

J.DZ-S - That's it...The Santaland Diaries. I should read that again. The last time I read it, actually I never read it someone performed part of it at Strasberg as a monologue in 1985 or 1986. Now that I have been on the inside I'd probably get more out of it.

Oh, and rock the possibilities.

Gregg - You got my number for sure.

Ciara - LOVE the Santa hat. Merry Christmas and have a fantastic new year.

Squirrel said...

GREAT story!

I was Santa one year and fooled all children under the age of 2. My friends dared me to go into a drug store and buy condoms which I did--it made the cashier's night!

Salty Miss Jill said...

Yes, you must find that photo.
What a great story-the flip side of David Sedaris! (I love that story, too...but you just give another side.)
xoxo and Ho Ho Ho!

Gary said...

Squirrel - Now THAT'S a great story.

Jill - I hope James remembers to get that photo to me before too long. xoxo and HoHoHo to you darling.

Maria said...

I read this on Christmas eve and really felt the magic...You were a great Santa! I'll never forget the look on Giovanni's face when he told me "Santa knows my name" It was truly priceless!

Feliz Navidad My Gary.....

Love you, Mean it!

Aileen said...

Love this story! Perfect casting, if I may say so myself!

WAT said...


Who knew?! You were once Santa Claus. Well I'll be! That's a cool story sir.

Gary said...

Maria - That was a highlight for sure!

Aileen - You know I went back to Macy's the other day and the thing I wanted to buy was on the 8th floor. That's the Santaland floor. And while I was there I got to thinking that perhaps it's time to suit up again for the 20th anniversary of my Santa adventure. I wonder how I'd like it now, from an older perspective. Hmmmmm...

Wat - Happy holidays! Hope Santa was good to you.

lettuce said...

come on james, we want to see the picture!


Gary said...

Letty - I was in the city the other day and called James because I was passing right by his apartment but he either wasn't home or wasn't picking up. I am tempted to let myself in, I have a spare set of keys for emergencies, but don't want to push it. Knowing him I'll never get the picture...but if I do you can be sure it'll be up on this here blog lickety split.


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