‘Are you Santa?’


“Are you Santa?”

The question came from a little boy about 4 years old. I was sitting in a low beach chair enjoying the sand and sun of Florida a few years ago. I heard the shy voice and looked up from my book. The little tyke was staring intently and waiting for the answer to his question.

Looking around, as if to see if anyone were listening, I motioned him, to take a step or two closer, put my finger to my lips, and said, “Shhhhh!” Then I added, “Even Santa needs a vacation.”

His eyes lit up and he exclaimed, “I won’t tell anyone. I promise!”

“You be good,” I told him, “and I will see you in a few months.” He ran off with the biggest smile I had seen that day.

I suppose that having white hair, a white beard, and a body that is – well, not tiny — should have prepared me to be mistaken for Santa. When it first happened in a Walmart in Griffin, Ga., I was taken aback. I suppose I could dye my hair, or shave off the beard, or (shudder) lose weight but that seems like a lot of trouble just to avoid being mistaken for the jolly old elf.

There are the fun moments, however. A couple of years ago, the weather just before Christmas was like it have been this week: bitterly cold, windy, snow flurries but no snow. I was walking one dark evening toward a supermarket when a voice called out, “Hey, Santa! Where’s your sleigh and reindeer?”

I looked up to see a kid I judged to be about 16 or so smirking out the driver’s window of a parked van. With him were two girls about the same age.
When a child asks the question, it’s one thing. When a teenaged guy asks the question, it usually means he’s trying to look cool in front of the girls.

So, going with the moment, I replied, “Do you see any snow? Or ice? Well, do you? No, you don’t. Everyone knows that reindeer that pull a sleigh need snow or ice to be able to travel. No snow, no reindeer or sleigh. You should know that!” Flustered and surprised at the comeback, he began to sputter while the girls giggled.

He tried again: “So, what are you bringing me for Christmas?”

“You must be kidding,” I retorted. “Do you have any idea how long your rap sheet is? You are high on the ‘naughty’ list.”

By now the giggling girls were laughing. “The good news,” I said, “is that you have a few more days to try to turn things around and maybe there will be something under the tree.”

Turning to walk to the store I gave a wave, shouted, “Merry Christmas” and watched the girls wave and shout back as the defeated young man sat glumly behind the wheel.

It was enough to make me quietly whisper, “Ho, ho, ho!”

I have heard that professional Santas can make up to $80,000 a year in large cities between Halloween and Christmas Day. There are even national professional Santa organizations that usually divide between “bearded” Santas and “fake-bearded” Santas.

There is an International University of Santa Claus which had its origin at the University of Southern California and a Santa University that offers classes in Colorado.

An educational radio program a few days ago told the tale of rival Santas going to war with each other in order to gain control of a national Santa organization, with the end result being physical altercations, flying accusations, and court battles.

Sounds very un-Santa-like to me.

For my part, I have learned to recognize that hopeful moment in a child’s eyes when he or she sees me in a store, on the beach, or in an airport and asks hesitantly, “Are you Santa?”

There are a few seconds when the world seems to catch its breath in anticipation of the answer. I don’t lie. I just say, “Shhhhhh,” and ask them not to tell anybody.

The look of hope, followed by anxious expectation that finally breaks into excited joy, is priceless. “Are you Santa?”

Well, why not?

[When not being mistaken for Santa Claus, David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org) He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]