Everyone knows there is only one true Santa Claus. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen him but I swear I’ve heard him rambling around our house on many Christmas Eves. It was always told to me, as a child, and I still buy it as a so-called adult, that while the real Kris Kringle is laboring at the North Pole, he sends his Christmas Clones to check things out. Most of them do a stellar job of filling the big man’s boots and belt. I was also told that you never knew, for sure, when the real Santa might decide to show up…just to keep everyone on their toes…so, treat them all like the genuine article!
The first Santa I ever met lived in a little half trailer on the square in Baraboo, Wisconsin. All of us kids would stand in line…outside the door…waiting for our turn. We have a photo of me sort of sitting on this Santa’s lap. I am wearing my tan snowsuit and black, red & white stocking cap…he’s wearing…well, you know what he’s wearing. The look on my face is a combination of uncertainty, a little fear, even a minor trace of disgust and revulsion. Basically, the same look I get from viewers, young and old, when I’m out in public, nowadays.
I don’t remember what I asked for…other than my mommy!
Another visit from a Sorta-Santa, was right at our front door. We had a local minister who occasionally stepped in for St. Nicholas and would come right to your house…on Christmas Eve, no less! During the summer, this minister’s son would ride an ice-cream bike around the neighborhood and sell treats to all us kids. So, the family had both Wisconsin seasons covered: the 11 months, 29 days of winter and the one day of summer. (Two days if it was a leap year.)
Almost all of the Kringle Krew that I’ve met over the years, have been terrific North Pole Ambassadors. However, there was one duplicate that was a dud. On the Saturday before Christmas, when I was about eight or nine, the Midway Theater put on a free movie for kids as a holiday treat. It was called Hook, Line and Sinker and starred Jerry Lewis. I don’t know about you, but I never really associated Jerry Lewis with Christmas. Labor Day, of course. But not Christmas. Maybe Jimmy Stewart or Bing Crosby, but not Jerry Lewis. The storyline involved Jerry’s character being told by his best friend, a doctor, that Jerry only had a short time to live. So, Jerry lives it up and spends all his money. Later, the doctor…played by another holiday favorite (?) Peter Lawford, tells Jerry it was all a mistake and it turns out the doctor wants to steal Jerry’s wife….etc.etc.etc. Not exactly Miracle on 34th Street. I think the theater had gotten this particular movie for free.
Right after the movie, a skinny, pale little guy wearing a jacket that appeared to have been spray-painted red and blaze-orange hunting pants came stumbling down the aisle. He had some sort of cotton-like fuzz glued to his face. You could see a pink outline where the glue was apparently giving him a rather bad rash. As memorable as he was to see, it is his aroma that has truly lingered over the decades. Apparently, this particular Santa-Wannabe, had spent the night sleeping with the reindeer and at least one Clydesdale. As he threw brown paper bags filled with peanuts and gum at us, he would cackle “Ho.” That’s right. Just one. “Ho.” Of course, all of us went crazy with noise and laughter. Sure, he looked more like a doppelgänger than a double, but this Santa was about as close as we were going to get to the real deal, this near to the big day, so we wanted to show our appreciation. After all, maybe this was Santa’s brother-in-law and the jolly old elf was just doing his wife a favor by letting him have the job .
No matter the appearance, this time of the year, Santa’s helpers sure do make it easier to get in the spirit of the season and put aside, for a while, all the trials and tribulations of life. They’re a get-away. A true Escape-Claus!