I don't tend to take many holidays. So when James McGillivray (@JamesMcG_MSBI) prompted this month for a post about taking breaks I felt a little underqualified. I could write about how one of the reasons I enjoy my car is the way that I can separate from everything for a bit, but I think I'm going to write about the week before Christmas when I didn't attend client sites at all, and instead took on a different type of work.
In recent years I've got to know some people that have a company that provides Father Christmases (I feel like that should be "Fathers Christmas", but that sounds odd – maybe just "Santas") for shopping centres, department stores, and so on. Last year at a Christmas party I was at, I mentioned that I had filled in as Father Christmas to give out the "Secret Santa" gifts at a client, and commented that maybe I should look into being a proper Santa. I say "Proper Santa" as if Santa is real, but you know what I mean. They said I should remind them in the middle of the year.
Of course, 2020 was, well, you know. Most places didn't have a Santa, even though Adelaide had no covid cases at all between April and November. I had said I could still be available, but the opportunities were scarce. In mid-November we had some cases hit Adelaide and we were in lockdown for a bit. But then by early December we were clear of the virus again, and I got asked if I could do a 3-hour shift as Santa on the 18th. And then that was followed up with the opportunity to do a 3-hour shift on each day Dec 21-24.
I said yes, and arranged to take a vacation from clients.
I still did some client work that week, but it was definitely a break from normality. And although I got paid for my work as Santa (meaning I could update my LinkedIn profile with "Professional Santa") that all went into a donation to a children's charity.
I wasn't a "sit on a couch and talk to the children that have queued up for a photo" Santa – I was a "walk around and greet people" Santa. Photos were selfies, not staged. At first I was a little disappointed, because it wasn't what I had imagined, but in many ways it was better this way, for quite an unexpected reason.
I hadn't really noticed this before, but people that pre-book to have photos with Father Christmas are quite privileged. I don't mean that they're lucky to have the honour of sitting with him, I mean that they've been able to pick up the phone and make a booking. Or they've been able to take the time to queue for a long time. That they've been able to spend the money to get a photo.
The people that I was dealing with were just people that were at the shopping centre. People who needed to pick up a few things ahead of Christmas. Or who were stressed about getting some presents for people because they weren't ready yet. On the 24th many of them were dads with kids in tow, muttering "I don't know what we're going to get her".
And so I interacted with people. My elf and I walked around every part of the shopping centre for three hours each day. I waved at everyone I saw. With no cases of the virus in the community anywhere in the country, let alone the state, kids ran up and hugged me. Many of them were totally enchanted, and the wonder in their eyes made it worthwhile.
But the one that caught me by surprise was the adults who wanted to interact with me. Not the parents or the shop-owners, who understood the "game", but the ones who were there with their carers because of some disability. The ones who still believed in Father Christmas. Who would never have been able to get a photo with a sit-down Santa, but who were just as excited to see me as any of the children (oh, except one kid who was absolutely beside herself – no one was more excited than her). Some of them I saw every day I was there – I guess an outing to the shops was part of their routine. One gave me a Christmas card on my last day.
The band Wizzard sings "I wish it could be Christmas every day", and part of me would like to recreate that feeling of being Santa more often. The theme from Cheers reminded us that we like to go where everybody knows our name, and when my name was "Santa" everyone really did. Walking through the shopping centre afterwards was strange because people couldn't see me. I would see those same faces, but wasn't able to talk to them. I missed it immediately, and totally understood the character Bob Parr (from The Incredibles) and his feeling of being powerless when not able to help people the extent that he wanted.
The annual PASS conference felt a little like that (as will events like SQLBits when they become in-person again), because I would see a lot of people I knew, but the level of enchantment isn't the same. People are never as excited to see Rob (well, not this Rob anyway) as children are to see Santa. And having lost Gareth Swanepoel to Covid this week, I'm feeling that we all need to see each other in the way that children see Santa. I was on a call with Gareth in the last couple of weeks thinking he had recovered. So we were all able to tell him how good it was that he was still around. We never thought it might be the last time.
So for those people who ask if I'll work as Santa again – yes, I hope so. It's tiring work, and it's so hot in the suit, but the rewards are huge.