It’s early on Wednesday morning, and I am preparing Santa for his most painful official visit – to talk to the students of Nicomekl Elementary School in Langley.
Visiting patients at the Cancer Centre isn’t very difficult for Santa because he too, has had cancer and he knows what most of the patients are going through both during and after radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Knowing that Santa Claus had cancer treatments six years ago – and the fact that he is still here is comforting and encouraging for most patients. And that’s why I visit dress as Santa every year.
So Santa, how can visit the students of an elementary school be much more challenging that visiting cancer patients?
Well, Santa first got a call three years ago from Sarah Bess M., one of the parent/volunteers of Nicomekl School’s annual Santa’s Workshop. She asked if Santa would be able to visit the students in class and if so, how much would Santa charge?
At the time, Santa explained that he was completely booked for every weekend in December and had no openings available.
Sarah: Actually, our event is on a Wednesday – from 9:00 AM – 2:30 PM, but you wouldn’t have to be there for the whole day – even if you could come for an hour or two. How much would you charge?
Santa Danny: I don’t quite understand what you want Santa to do at the Workshop.
Sarah: Well, during the year we do fundraisers to raise money to purchase gifts for the students. Many of the students are from single-parent families and are on social assistance, and would not be getting any presents at Christmas.
Santa Danny: Oh, so you want Santa to give the presents to the children?
Sarah: Oh no, Santa! The money we raise is to buy things from various thrift shops – but the things that we buy are actually for the parent(s) of the child. On Wednesday, we bring each of the students into the school’s auditorium. All of the items are on tables; we let them choose one item for their parent(s), and then we help them to wrap the gift. And although that child may not get a present on Christmas, at least he/she can experience the joy of giving a gift to their parent(s).
I started to get a lump in my throat…
Santa Danny: There won’t be a charge – what time would you like me to be there? Oh, and I’ll need a place to change into my outfit.
As Santa Danny, I had seen many, many children and had always made the point of explaining to them that Santa may not be able to bring them the everything they want, but he will at least try to give them something.
As Santa Danny, I’ve seen the excitement in the eyes of children when they see me. It gives me the thrill to share in their excitement. But it puts a hole in my heart when I know that the child sitting on my knee won’t be getting a present for Christmas. For many, there won’t even be a Christmas tree or decorations. And they won’t get served turkey with stuffing, on Christmas Day – they might get an extra helping of leftovers from the day before.
And as I pack my suitcase with the Santa Claus outfit I start to feel the Fear…
But the Fear isn’t that the children wouldn’t be happy to see Santa – because they will be as excited as you and I were when we were their age. No, it’s the Fear that comes from knowing that some of the children I see won’t be able to get what they want for Christmas – and it’s not toys or presents.
So on that day three years ago, when Santa visited the school, he went from classroom to classroom and was met with screams of delight from most of the kids. But there was one little girl that asked Santa for something that left him speechless – she asked Santa if he could stop her Mommy and Daddy from fighting. Santa did not know what to say but finally just gave her a hug and whispered in her ear that her Santa loves her and hopes that things will be better in the New Year. But the sadness on that little girl’s face is an image that I will never forget.
I arrived at the school at 8:30 AM and went to the office. A change room allowed me to get changed into my Santa Claus outfit. I do not drive around in public dressed as Santa – because Santa has a sleigh and reindeer -so he would never, ever be in a car.
I met with Sarah, who was busy decorating the school auditorium with other parent volunteers. I was surprised to see how many items they had this year, but I’m sure that there probably isn’t enough to go around.
So Santa visited the Kindergarten and Grade 1 classes and spent time talking and sang with the kids and even answering all of their questions. The last class that Santa visited, all of the kids ran up to him and circled him with a group hug. It was a very moving experience, and Santa was feeling jubilant when he suddenly noticed the little boy, standing at the back of the room, with his hands in his pockets and the saddest look in his eyes. Santa walked over to the little boy and bent down to whisper in his ear.
Santa Danny: Hi son, I’m so happy to see you! And what do you want Santa to bring you this year?
Little boy: Can you bring my Daddy back?
And then his eyes started filling with tears as Santa gave him a hug and told him that he was loved by many people – by his Mommy, his Daddy, his other family members, his teacher, his friends and of course, Santa Claus. I also told him that things will get better, but Santa knew differently. I tried to release myself from the hug, but the little boy continued to hug Santa as though he didn’t want him to go.
Santa went back to the secret room to get changed and then went to say goodbye to Sarah and the other parents. He gave a contribution towards their next year’s Santa Workshop and wished them continued success! They promised to send him pictures – which he said he would post on this blog.
I left and rushed home to get showered and changed to go to Vancouver for an audition at Go Studios.
It’s now 7:00 AM on Sunday morning and I will be doing a Santa visit in Vancouver from 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM.
My last Santa visit will be on Wednesday, December 23rd at the Cancer Centre in Surrey.
Sadly, it will also be my last shift as a volunteer at the Cancer Centre.
And that dear reader was the day that Santa cried.
Dedicated to the patients and staff at the BC Cancer Agency.