by Steve Laird
In this special holiday edition of the UACC blog, Steve Laird shares his memories of playing Santa. The “Agency” refers to the Urban Appalachian Council.
As a child I remember visiting my grandparents in English Woods. I was 4 or 5 years old, I’m not sure, as we were leaving their house on Christmas Eve my sister pointed up and said “there goes Santa!” Sure enough it was Santa. Now I know it was a shooting star. But to a boys eyes it was the real thing.
On Christmas Eve Santa would come in at 8pm because dad had to go to work at 9pm. He worked on the Railroad. Santa was a family friend. They wanted a picture of me and the other kids kissing Santa on the cheek. The first year wasn’t so bad, till the next day my sister told me the identity of Santa. It took my belief in Santa away, I was about 7. I still believed a little, but the magic was gone.
In 1978 a childhood friend asked me to play Santa for her family and kids. It was my first time and I was a bit nervous. Annette asked me to have the kids sit on my lap and ask them to sing their favorite Christmas Song. The kids would start the song and the whole family would join in. It made the whole room ring with music and Christmas joy.
Over the years I have played Santa for many agencies and families, UAC, Laird, McLin, Lake, Jones, Brunst’s, and the Jefferson’s. Sometimes the kids would pick a song that we did not know all the words to, so everyone would kind of mumble sounds, except the Jefferson’s. They always know all the words! And they all have beautiful voices. Several of the adult kids were in bands and sing in bands today. Then, I was playing Santa for a family for years and we are related. 2 of the boys knew I was their uncle. They were in their teens by then. I asked them if they wanted t o kiss Santa on the cheek. EEEwwww NO! and ran away. The whole family laughed. I had played Santa for them since they were infants.
2013 was my last year playing Santa for the Jefferson’s. I was concerned about not being stable with the beard and spats. My vision was a concern for me. I did not want Santa to trip or fall in front of the kids. I got the opportunity to hold my great niece, she was 3 days old. I put my ear down to her and said, “Katherine wants to hear Away in a Manger.” The song shook the rafters. This was my last time as Santa and I feel I went out with a song in my heart and I was a blessed by the children over the years.
Working with the families over the years was a real blessing. I also worked as Santa for Several agencies. As Santa I would never promise the children a certain toy or doll, because I did not want them to be disappointed. I would say, “I will see what I can do”. Many times the parents were close by so they could hear what the child wanted.
Agencies were different. I did not know the children or their background. One time a little girl asked for her room back. I found out later she was homeless and sleeping in a car with her mother. The Agency kids would ask me for food, warm clothes, and beds. Two little boys wanted their yard back. The parent’s jobs were outsourced and they were all staying with other people.
One little girl, she had a skull cap on, said she wanted her mommy to laugh again. I looked at the lady with her and I said, “Come on mom, we can laugh for Susie”. She said “I am grandma.” So I told the little girl that granny and I would be sure to help mommy laugh again. Grandma smiled and winked at me. Later I found out the little girl had cancer and it didn’t look good for her. At that point I felt that someone would get the gift they asked for from Santa. It put a big holiday smile on my heart.
It’s good I don‘t know the background on the kids. It would be hard for Santa to stay jolly. This is a story of a very special spirit that blessed me. There is a song Elvis sang, “If it was Christmas year round”, and the message is that we should hold that happy spirit that Christmas brings in our hearts all year. The world would be a better place. The children are our most precious resource and we need to protect them, cherish them, and educate them. They are our future.