Every website needs a good Christmas story. I’m sure that’s a rule somewhere, and if it’s not, it should be. I love Christmas. I love baking, I love decorating, I love the music, I love the family time, I love celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ—and I love Santa Claus. In fact, after the story of the birth of Christ, especially Luke 2 in the King James Bible, this story of Santa Claus is my second favorite Christmas story.

You see, my Santa story isn’t just any Santa story. It is the story that showed me the transformative power of love, and what Santa Claus is really all about. It’s not about the toys and the gifts, and it’s not even about the red suit—though it figures prominently in this story. It’s about the power of love and service, and willingness to set yourself aside to bring joy into someone else’s life.

I invite you to read on and see for yourself.

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Santa Claus ©MarieLeslie

When my children were small Santa was a big deal at our house. He didn’t bring a lot of stuff—in fact, he always brought only one small gift—but he was responsible for some amazing little things that always happened around Christmas time in our family—at least in my children’s eyes. The magic of Santa has always been alive and well in our family. We count ourselves among the believers.

I still believe. I believe in all the good things that Santa represents. But then I had the advantage of having Santa Claus for a father. When we were very young, my sisters and I had the task of being elves and making little gifts for our neighborhood Santa to give out each year on Christmas Eve. Santa was a family friend (actually a few different friends over the years) and my dad was Santa’s driver. My mom was the organizer and Santa visited a number of families in our church and town who had children young enough to be excited over a personal visit from the jolly fat man on Christmas Eve.

When I was about 16, our Santa came down with the flu on Christmas Eve. Try as they might, my parents couldn’t find a replacement Santa at the last minute. My dad decided that he would do it, rather than risk disappointing the children who were anticipating his visit. My sisters and I were horrified–even my mom wasn’t too excited.

Our father had been a career Marine and there was no doubt in our minds that he had sprung forth from the womb a full-fledged Marine with all the toughness that entailed. When I was a little girl, I viewed my dad with a combination of hero worship and healthy fear-of-God respect. My dad was also skinny as a rail.

We had no idea how he was going to pull off the role of “jolly fat man” at 6’2” and beanpole. There was definitely no “bowl full of jelly” when he laughed.  He was the tough guy, not mean or harsh, but definitely a very strict dad, certainly not the first one you would think of for jolly and we were convinced that he would “ruin” Christmas for all our friends’ children. Well, Dad being Dad, he won (I told you he was tough–determined is probably a better adjective).

Mom was the driver that night and we girls waited at home for their return. About 30 minutes after they left, one of my mom’s closest friends called. Their first stop had been to a close family friend’s house to visit their grandchildren. She wanted to know who the Santa was. We thought it was a joke.  She told us he was the best Santa she’d ever seen. She had no idea it was our dad. We got several more similar calls that night. Despite having known him for years, no one had a clue who our Santa was, and all agreed he was the best Santa ever.

we believe in santaAs for the “fat man” part? My mother cleverly created padding that first year from a pair of suspenders and a couple of bed pillows. Later, we created a padded vest that was more comfortable and easier to wear than bed pillows and suspenders.

From that night on, I knew that Santa was magic. When Dad put on the suit, he became Santa. He was a completely different person and I don’t think I ever saw him happier than he was on Christmas Eve. He didn’t get a lot of opportunities to serve in really fun ways and this one gave him the opportunity to put on an alter ego that was completely different from the world’s preconceived ideas of who my dad really was. For the record, I think Santa was much closer to who he wanted to be than the guy he was in everyday life.

For the next 10 years, my dad was Santa every year on Christmas Eve. The year I turned 20, he decided he needed a “real” Santa suit. The one they had used for years was getting pretty worn and threadbare.  So, Dad and I went shopping and picked out top quality velvet, fur and leather for the belt. He even bought real boots and we went to a professional wig shop for the wig and beard. This is the portrait I made for him that year.

Sadly, he died the year before our son was born and our oldest was too young to remember him, so our children never experienced all their grandfather’s magic. But we hang his portrait and his sleigh bells in a place of honor every year at Christmas next to the sign my mom gave each us the first Christmas after his passing that says, “I still believe in Santa Claus.”  And at our house we really do.

Merry Christmas.

By the way, I know some of you who read this remember our wonderful Santa.  I would love for you to share your stories and memories here with us. And I would love for you to share your stories of the Santas in your life, too.

This post was originally published in 2011.
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