Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Reflections from Ms. Santa and Christmas 2016




Reading at a school in 2015

For many years now, I have worn a Christmas Suit to visit daycares and elementary schools filled with "wee ones" as Ms. Santa. When my son became a Marine nearly eight years ago, my visited expanded to military families and the veteran communities. My two months as Ms. Santa schedule expanded to several months a year to accommodate families who have love ones deployed. I learned that many families delayed Christmas celebrations until dad, mom, sister or brother was back home safely. Christmas was when they returned and not only in December. I have been called often to meet a member at the airport with the family to say welcome home and "Merry Christmas."

Members of the Air Force dinning with me at Monell's.

www.livingtogivenow.com
Precious #AO

My Ms. Santa's duties are pretty simple; bring love and joy. Love and joy have included toys, items needed and wanted, and, most importantly, ears that hear and listen. Being in character is not an act to me, I take my role seriously. Over the years, I have heard requests from children and the young at heart that have made me roar with laughter. I have shared special moments like handing first time grandparents their "new gift" wrapped in a Christmas blanket. I will always cherish witnessing the look on their faces. Every member of the military I have welcomed home, face is chiseled into my memory and every child who only wanted their dad or mom home from battle names are written on my heart. Those requests remind of the time when all I wanted for Christmas was my Marine home. Photo after photo, conversation after conversation, preps me for the wonder and awe of the New Year to come.

Me and my hero, my son.

With each year, I have learned to expect the unexpected and to be prepared to bring comfort to hurting children and families. In 2008, the economic crises and hardship heaped on families were etched in the faces of children. Instead of asking for the new hot toy of the year, little ones remarked about who was jobless in the family. Many children did not ask for a toy but wanted a toy for their younger sibling. My heart ached as I heard one story after another from wee ones about the financial woes of the adults in their lives.

Grace Eaton Child Care in 2009

 In 2012, the tragedy of Sandy Hook landed in Ms. Santa's lap. A deranged gunman's actions had shaken the country to its core when he slaughted babies at an elementary school. Five and six year olds asked for bullet proof vests and back packs. A few wanted the vests for their dolls and action figures!  I remember several asking me to teach them how to fight a bad guy.  As I hugged each one to reassure them that they were loved and everything would be okay, I fought for control of my emotions. I gave out more hugs than toys the final days before Christmas that year.




Bullet proof vests for children.
This year, the tone and tenor of 2016 made its way to my ears and pierced my heart. In November, dolls in pantsuits were hot items. As a matter of fact,  many little girls wanted pantsuits not only for themselves, but for moms and grandmas. Baseball caps were in high demand as much as trucks by the boys. As much as those requests made me smile knowingly, there were some requests that made me winch with pain. A little Latina angel confided in me that she did not want her Nana to be taken away from her. When I asked where was Nana going, she said, "I do not know but every one is saying on TV she has to go back."  A hug was all I could muster in reply as I looked into her big brown eyes filled with worry. Children should not be worrying about life at five!

One encounter with a child left me bewildered and wondering what will 2017 bring. As I was winding down school parties, I visited a school at the request of a teacher I have known for years. It was my first visit to her school. I brought my winning bag of age appropriate goodies that were engaging; my Santas from around world that I have collected over the years along with my favorite Christmas books that I love to read that are as unique as my Santas. When I entered the room, parents and grandparents were in tow to help celebrate the end of the semester and the start of the holiday break. As I set up my Santas, the children gathered around me with "oohs" and "aahs" that I have come to expect. Several wee ones stared at me with bright smiles that are given to Santas worldwide. As I counted enough ornaments to give away to the fast growing crowd around me, I noticed a family in the back with a child who was not sitting with the others around me. After I sat in the big chair after the teacher introduced me as Ms. Santa, I talked about my Santas from various countries and read several Christmas stories. After reading to the class, I asked about their holiday celebrations that included Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa ventures. I gave out Christmas cards for the children to sign for those who were less fortunate. While some students were signing cards, others stood in line to have their picture taken with me.

Ms. Santa picture by Martin O'Connor
 At the exact same time, the child who stayed in back with her family, inched her way towards me. Once she stood near my chair, she looked back over her shoulder at her family and then turned back to me and blurted out loudly, "You are not Santa Claus. You are Black. Santa Claus is White like my Grandpa!" She then turned back to her family who seemed to beam with prided at her bold declaration. But the other children gasped with shock. A hush hit the room. As the classroom became eerily quite, the howls of laughter from the family were deafening. Their back slaps made me physically ill as I watched babies watching their behavior. As their laughter calmed down, the room remained quite as all eyes turned back to me including the teacher and the other adults in the room. With all the fiber in my body, I looked at the child standing in front of me and reached for a Santa that may have resembled her Grandpa. With a smile, I said, "Your grandpa is very handsome if he looks like this Santa." I then handed her a beautiful White angel and shared about my friend who gave it to me. I said, "Her granddaughter looks like you. How old are you?" The more I engaged the child, the more the child talked about her beloved Grandpa to the dismay of her family.  When she handed me the angel back, I said,  "Please keep it, angles are very special. They protect us from bad things and are reminders to be kind to others."

Villa Place Santa

 After regrouping, I began asking the other children if they saw a Santa that looked like their grandfather or grandpa. To their delight, and the relief of the teacher, the children turned their attention to Granddads, Grandpas, and Paw Paws who looked like Santa. The outburst from the back of the room seemed like a foul mist that dissipated quickly once we started discussing all things Christmas while photos were being snapped left and right. Several children gave me  extra big hugs as if they were comforting me and a few parents whispered, 'I am so sorry' after they took their child's picture. I have never had an encounter like that with a child or adults as Ms. Santa and I was determined to keep my focus on my duties; to bring love and joy.



 As the family who had encourage their child to remind me of how Santa suppose to look was leaving, their wee one waved bye with her new Angel clutched firmly in her hand. I waved back and blew a kiss. My wave and kiss must were doused with angel dust from heaven because suddenly the child ran over to me and gave me the biggest hug ever. That hug brought tears to my eyes as I heard her say boldly, "Have a Merry Christmas Mrs. Claus."As I hugged her back, my eyes locked with her mother. Look at God, I mused to myself.

Later, on my way home, the words of my grandfather, a Civil Rights foot solider from Mississippi, flooded my thoughts, "Children are taught to hate. God does not teach us to hate anyone." I believe the wounds from 2016 will heal but the scars will be visible for sometime. My prayer is for adults to learn and believe words matter. What we say to and about about each other can affect generations to come. I learned from this year, more so than any other year, children not only hear our words but watch our actions and reactions intensively.

Merry Christmas




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