For several (pre-Covid) years I earned extra money playing Santa Claus at Christmas parties. As my tubby alter ego, I’ve appeared/entertained at adult office parties, family gatherings, charity events, daycare visits, kids’ parties, radio station visits. Heck, one summer I even suited up for a “Christmas in July” charity event!
Despite the various types of gigs, my favourites were always parties attended by little children; you know, those excited little tykes who still believed in the magical, jolly old fat man and just couldn’t wait to talk to him… Yeah, those tykes. Once Santa arrived, they’d eagerly bolt toward him/me, hug as hard as their little arms would allow, shrieking out my/our name very loudly with an excitement and wonder like no other.
Once “North Pole” law and order had been established, I’d sit in a big chair and meet them one by one, greeting each child by name. This little trick was all thanks to my “elf” who’d gently brief me just prior to each child’s arrival. With rapport established, I’d ask, “What about Christmas are you most excited for?” and then it was time for me to be quiet and let the children talk; and boy oh boy, when it comes to Santa Claus, do they ever what to talk!
They’d regale with stories of family gatherings, turkey dinners, and of course, special presents, always described with laser-precision that they’d hope to find under the tree Christmas morning. Some children asked how the reindeer were doing, or where were they now, or should I leave a carrot out for Rudolph on Christmas eve? Because of their sincerity, each child’s question was very special to hear.
But as much as these moments were magical for the boys and girls, they were equally so for this imposter. The innocence and awe and wonder -qualities rarely found these days- often proved overwhelming, making me glad to be hiding behind a false beard, padded belly, wig and spectacles. Honestly, they were what had me returning to this role year after year. I knew that at least once per season, my heart would melt, and couldn’t wait.
In fifteen years of playing Mr. Claus, I’ve discovered a few things about children, specifically how to communicate with them in a way that encourages and invites them to express themselves.
I’d like to share a few of the qualities every good Santa embodies; not because I think readers are looking for Holiday side-hustles, but because adults who embody them will communicate more effectively with children- and not just at Christmas time. Let’s start with:
Santa Knows Children Believe in Wonder and Magic; and He Works It.
Anyone who plays Santa has a responsibility to represent the magic that he, and the suit, means to the children who truly believe in him. Their beliefs and wonders are part of what makes the Christmas season so magical, and we must cherish it. That’s why every good Santa works it by being extra interested in what the children have to say, no matter how silly it may be. But he shouldn’t be the only adult that does this.
Remember, children’s belief in magic extends far beyond the Christmas season. It’s also in the stories they read, or are told before bedtime. It’s in the toys that spark their imaginations, and the adventures they create in their minds.
For little ones, magic is everything new, including the “magic”found in the real world like how water turns into ice, why snowflakes have individual patterns, or that hummingbirds flap their wings a million times a second. As adults, we should always encourage children to explore any form of magic and wonder they have, and listen to their musings with awe.
Santa Is Excited To See Children, and Always Listens to Them
Santa is about one thing; bringing joy and happiness to boys and girls, something that is often manifested as presents under a tree. As cool as this may be, there is no emotional exchange between the children and Santa, even when the cookies they left out get eaten, and the glasses of milk are half drunk.
But when children meet Santa for real, he is always excited and happy to see them, and is sure to tell them so. Santa wants each child to know he or she is special, and that what they have to say is important. When children talk to him, Santa listens carefully, and never interrupts. When he does eventually reply to their questions, he’ll use grand, sweeping responses that are both kind and positive. These help validate children in their thinking, plus builds their self-esteem.
Santa Always Gets Down To Children’s Eye Level
Santa NEVER looks down when he talks to children; Santa wants children to feel equal in a conversation, so he makes sure to always be on the same eye level with them – even if it means crouching down. Is it any wonder that so many children spill their secrets to Santa Claus?
Santa Asks Curious Questions
When Santa asks questions, they are open-ended, and offer children a wide berth so they can express themselves fully and completely. If details are missing (What colour? What does that do? Tell me more!) Santa continues questioning until he gets a full picture of what the child is talking about. Only once this happens does he respond.
Santa Is AMAZED By The Things Children Do and Say
Santa knows his job is to make children believe in all kinds of magic, including the magic found deep within their imagination. That’s why when children say really, really, really fantastic things, Santa doesn’t say “don’t be silly” or “You can’t do that”, but instead acts AMAZED by the child’s ambition, and frequently tells them. He reinforces what they are saying is pretty wonderful.
Santa also acts equally amazed when children do things that while mundane, still make them feel proud of themselves. Santa knows that each child (like each human being) struggles with different things and he wants them to feel good about themselves.
Santa Knows When a Child No Longer Believes
A good Santa knows when, for whatever reason, a child no longer believes in him. When this happens, he doesn’t badger that child (or young adult) by asking them what they want for Christmas, etc. but instead talks to them appropriately in how one respectful adult talks to another.
This approach creates a tacit, yet respectful understanding that while Santa’s magic and wonder may no longer have a place for them, they both know it does for other children, and neither will do nor say anything to effect this.
Next time you are with a small child, and not sure what to say to them or how to say it, try asking, “What would Santa say/do?” You may find that you just may have an inner St. Nick just dying to get out. I know I did.
Merry Christmas Everyone! (including all the girls and boys!)
Author Bio: David Knapp-Fisher
As founder of The Inspired Humans Project, David loves sharing inspirational stories. His TEDx talk, “Discipline or Regret, a Father’s Decision” been viewed over 100,000 times, and his first book, “Punch Failure in The Face, Then Buy It a Beer” has 36 five star reviews on amazon.ca.
David lives in Victoria B.C. where he spends most of his time trying (& usually failing) to stump his son with movie trivia, or planning his next big adventure; both while drinking great coffee, of course.