Matthew Gainous is an instructor at Ogeechee Technical College by day and a freelance writer by night. For the last ten years, he has also been "The Man in Red" each December, much to the delight of children all over Statesboro and Bulloch County. This column is part of his Fridge Worthy series.
I’ve officially retired from a position I’ve held for 10 years, a once-a-year kind of job that shocked, amazed, and made some people speechless. I got to do something pretty special in December, something I looked forward to around Christmas each year. I got to be The Man in Red, Mr. Bowl Full of Jelly himself. I was Santa Claus.
Bulloch County Recreation and Parks Department has a holiday program named Santa’s Calling, and for the past decade or so, I have called children and talked to them in my best Santa voice. Parents complete an information form with details of their child’s school progress, behavior, special accomplishments, areas that need work, and a few items from their Christmas list. I’m given a script as well, so I can at least attempt to control the conversation. That’s not always how it goes, though!
Kids’ ages range from four to seven years old, although I’ve had a few younger and older through the years. Every now and then older kids may start to doubt that I’m the Real Deal, that is until I ask how they like being in Ms. So and So’s class at Whatever elementary school, or how they need to work on minding Mom and Dad better. I imagine their eyes get really big at that point! I know their tones change, and all of a sudden, they believe.
"Ho! Ho! Ho! Hello! This is Santa. How are you today?"Santa's Calling
I want them to believe. I want them to feel the magic of Christmas, the merriment of this season. Nothing makes me happier than hearing the squeal of a tiny voice or the gasp of breath when I say, “Ho! Ho! Ho! Hello! This is Santa. How are you today?” as I ring my jingle bell near the phone. On occasion, a parent has to encourage his or her child’s end of the conversation, but once the kids warm up, it’s sometimes difficult to get off of the phone. I don’t mind, though. I often get as caught up in the excitement and sheer joy as they do.
Through the years I’ve had some memorable conversations with kids, but one is my absolute favorite, so much so that I wrote about it on Facebook. Every year now when this post pops up on my Memories page, I wonder about a sweet girl who wanted a baby sister for Christmas. When I asked what she wanted her sister’s name to be, she very confidently said, “Oh, her name will be Snowflake.” I had to put my phone down for a second on that one! I laughed until I cried, and then I laughed some more. This was eight years ago, and I wonder every year when I re-read my post if that sweet little girl got her baby sister, and if so, when I might get to call Snowflake to see what she wants for Christmas. That would truly be a wonderful gift to me.
The week that I am Santa is typically my last week of classes, too, so I’m usually inundated with grading and stressed to the max. I’m tired, sometimes disheartened, and in great need of a brain break and a boost in spirit. It never fails that I get just such a boost from the children I talk to as Santa. They remind me through their laughter, excitement, and awe that things are going to be okay, that the spirit of the season is alive and well in their hearts.
My cheeks aren’t fat and my countenance wasn’t always merry, even right before I made the first call of the day, but by the end of the night I was always smiling. These kids, they thought I was Santa, the magic elf. The magic, though, is in their hearts, and they gave a little bit to me with each phone call. I got 10 years of joy from them, but now it’s time for someone else to spread that Christmas cheer. Thank you, kids, for the memories! Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas! And Snowflake, if you’re out there, a very special Merry Christmas to you and to your big sister!
Santa's Calling is a program of the Bulloch County Recreation and Parks Department. While it's too late to sign up to get a call from Santa this year, he will be back next year for more holly jolly cheer!