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Another View: Yes, Virginia, Santa Claus really does shop Auburn

Another View
By: Tony Hazarian, Journal publisher
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The suit never fits well, the eyebrows are way too dark, and the quilt batting leaks out below the belt, like some kind of cotton fiber hernia. The beard often falls below my mouth, and at the end of a long day the wig feels like steel wool wrapping my forehead. On a good day, when the temperature outside is close to freezing. I’ll sweat off a couple of pounds. On a mild or warm winter day, forget about it. It’s a sauna under all that material. But, as my staff will tell me: Stop whining. Everybody loves Santa. For the last few years, I’ve had the honor of donning the jolly red outfit and visiting dozens of Auburn businesses, promoting local holiday shopping and last-minute deals under the banner of “Santa Shops Auburn.” This year’s adventure was published across three pages in last Sunday’s edition. Produced by Advertising Manager Beth O’Brien, the Santa promotion caps our holiday season lineup of special programs for Auburn-area merchants — although our newest one, “Holiday Bonus Bucks,” continues through New Year’s Eve. Turn to Page A2 to see if you’re one of the lucky winners sharing nearly $2,000 in local shopping certificates this month. As you can tell from my physical description above, I really don’t have the makings of a great Santa. While not in top physical shape, I don’t have nearly enough natural padding to avoid being stuffed like a turkey. My cheeks aren’t chubby enough. My voice is a few octaves too high. But as any St. Nick wannabe will tell you, something happens when you put that suit on, adjust the belt, arrange the filling and get the beard and wig just so. It might not be Superman’s cape, but it’s pretty special indeed. Just the sight of the Santa lures a smile to most people. Walking down Lincoln Way or High Street brings a symphony of unsolicited horns and shouts, and most drivers return Santa’s wave with a friendly gesture or a honk. Some drivers even stop at crosswalks to allow Santa and his helper to cross the street. Inside the suit, despite the rising temperatures, it’s easy to get in the Christmas spirit. Every merchant we visit is happy to see us. Everyone we meet on the street is in a good mood. Moms and toddlers come up to say hi. Kids are quick to share their list of most wanted toys. As Santa, I’ve done everything from being elevated by a forklift to reclining in a dental chair. I’ve climbed into a saddle and ridden a bike. I’ve put jewelry on several women, and posed in portraits with many others. Nothing, however, is as terrifying as the prospect of being seen, in partial dress, by children. In my first go-round a few years ago, Beth and I were driving between appointments along Highway 49. Overheated and gasping for cool air, I took off the hat, wig and beard, rolled down the window and attempted to ventilate. Beth started talking about one thing or another — I was too hot to understand — when I saw an SUV in an accompanying lane filled with children. I quickly ducked to keep from being seen, crouching in the passenger seat. Beth thought heat stroke had set in, but I was really trying to put Santa’s face back together. Moments later, with a cockeyed beard on and a hat still on the floor, I looked up to see three smiling kids staring at me. From that day forward, I’ve never let my guard — or beard — down unless I knew was safe. There have been some close calls, but I want kids to have the fantasy as long as they possibly can. Everyone loves Santa, whether it’s me or the real guy coming later tonight. Merry Christmas.