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!"