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The logistics of playing Father Christmas [Nov. 26th, 2007|09:18 am]
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[mood |cheerfultired but cheerful]

Now, when Father Christmas asks you to act as his stand-in, it's a pretty big thing you're taking on. You're representing the big guy to the public, so there are certain expectations built in. One of the big ones is - you care - care about the kids, care about the adults, care about doing the job right.

Naturally, once in a while a dodgy Santa will sneak through. Sadly, as with most things, it's the one rare bad fellow that makes life difficult for the rest of us. I've heard the stories of the Bad Santas, they range from men who are grumpy or who never smile for the photographs, through to the chaps that have acted inappropriately with young ladies who wanted a picture.

Needless to say, Sinter Klaus never brings his bad representatives Christmas presents. They don't even get coal.

So now, most of the fellows who play Papá Noel have to have yearly police checks done. It's a nuisance, and a little insulting to those of us that have a few years under their belts without incident, but you don't mind because it's to protect the kids. It's the other things that are pushed by people with no understanding of what Weihnachtsmann is about that cause the real hassles.

For instance, the recent rubbish about saying "ha ha ha" instead of "ho ho ho", because someone felt that the "ho ho ho" may be a bit scary for children, and a few other people worry about the fact that "ho" can be an insulting slang term. First up, Kris Kringle himself laughs with a "ho ho ho", and any decent stand-ins try to do the same. You don't say it, you merge it into your natural laugh, or use it like a greeting. All but the most unbelievably sensitive person, or someone just looking for a reason to be angry, knows that it's harmless.

As to Father Christmas being scary to children... well he kind of is, in much the same way as dinosaurs are. Many kids love dinosaurs, because they are huge and amazing and, most importantly, not here. Then "Jurassic Park" came out and did a fabulous job of making them real, and so scaring an entire generation of kids.

Mikulás is fine when he's on the TV, or is represented by toys, statues, and puppets. But when he's right there in front of you, that's a different matter. To many children, he is like God - all knowing, all seeing, with the ability to do amazing things - but unlike God, they can see him in the flesh. That's going to intimidate some people, no matter what. Now Saint Nicholas himself, well he accepts that some kids are going to find him a little scary, he's a pragmatic man and knows it can't be helped. But the majority of kiddies, they're fine.

Speaking personally, as a representative of Kris Kringle, there are a few things that I do despite modern sensibilities on what is 'right'. For a start, despite the damage done by Bad Santas, most parents still want their children on your knee. Now in theory, I'm meant to discourage this, in practice, I try to let the decision be the kid's. I'll pat my knee, and pat the seat beside me, and then ask the child where they would prefer to sit.

If a child wants to hug me, I never decline. When I'm walking about and I meet children, I squat down so I'm closer to their height, and hopefully less intimidating. I never promise to bring the child what they've asked for, unless I get a clear nod from the guardian. I usually only promise to do my best.

Now one thing you'll have noticed in this piece, is that I've rarely referred to Santa Claus. I don't actually like the term much, not because there's anything intrinsically wrong with it, but because its use world-wide has grown solely due to America pushing it so very hard. I dislike that in Australia we've moved away from calling him Father Christmas, and have taken to using the preferred term of the U.S.

The thing about Hanakoko is that he belongs to the world. He has many names, many costumes, and also happily shares the role of gift giver with many others - La Befana, Ded Moroz & Snegurochka, the Magi, even the Christ Child, are among the many givers of gifts from around that time of year. And Santa is by nature a generous soul, who knows the true joy that comes from giving for the sake of it, and would never seek to deny others the chance, or seek to replace them in people's affections.

There are many of us who represent the gift-givers around the world. And whether we're standing in for Daidaín na Nollaig, Babouschka, Saint Basil, or Father Christmas, we know we have one of most important, not to mention best and most rewarding, jobs in the world. You only have to see the smiles on faces both young and old to know that.

Because we're charged with reminding children & adults that the world really is a wonderful place. How can anyone be unhappy doing that?

[User Picture]From: vegetus
2007-11-26 12:36 am (UTC)
Thank you for writing this, it's a lovely insight into helping out St. Nick :)
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[User Picture]From: king_espresso
2007-11-26 01:38 am (UTC)
Still got my pic taken with Santa a couple of years ago. But you didn't mention Tonton Macoute.

Ganked from wikipedia
In Haitian tradition, as of that of other nations, good children are visited at Christmas by Uncle Christmas, known locally as Tonton Noel (Father Christmas in other nations). However, the bad children are snatched by Uncle Gunnysack, or Uncle Knapsack. Translated literally from Creole: Tonton (Uncle) Macoute (gunnysack). Because intimidation and threats as well as violence are a factor used by the MVSN, they are referred to as 'Uncle Gunnysack'. The term "Tonton Macoutes" is equivalent in Haiti to the "bogeyman".

Maybe the bad santas are tonton macoute.
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[User Picture]From: strangedave
2007-11-26 04:29 am (UTC)
I fear that Tonton Macoute has another, rather more real and nasty, association now, or at least had under the Duvaliér regimes.
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[User Picture]From: king_espresso
2007-11-26 04:57 am (UTC)
Yep, it did, but it's time to reclaim the concept for its' original use... scaring children not whole communities.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2007-11-26 05:21 am (UTC)
Somehow I missed Tonton Macoute, though I do know of Zwarte Piet, who kidnaps bad children and takes them off to... *dramatic chord* Spain!
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[User Picture]From: king_espresso
2007-11-26 06:39 am (UTC)
So does Zwarte Piet have an email address or something? I could use a tapas pub crawl.
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[User Picture]From: arcadiagt5
2007-11-26 01:39 am (UTC)
Oh what a splendid thing to read!

I dearly hope you had as much fun writing it as I did reading it and as much as you so obviously enjoying helping Kris Kringle out!
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2007-11-26 04:55 am (UTC)
Thanks dude. I don't know any other Santas that have researched the role as thoroughly as I, though doubtless there are many better versed in Christmas lore than myself.

As Father Christmas you're a big deal to the kids, but you're also a big deal to their parents. They have an idealised remembrance of what it was like to meet St. Nick, and want that for their children. They are highly sensitive to people doing an average job.

Even when I'm physically exhausted, I put my full energy into the part, while doing my best to pace myself. I constantly scan for children and adults I haven't seen so I can wave at them. If it's quiet I go for walks to try and spread the good cheer.

Father Christmas is everyone's favourite granddad, and needs to be played with the respect that deserves.
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From: gutter_monkey
2007-11-26 06:48 am (UTC)
> First up, Kris Kringle himself laughs with a "ho ho ho", and any decent stand-ins try to do the same. You don't say it, you merge it into your natural laugh, or use it like a greeting. All but the most unbelievably sensitive person, or someone just looking for a reason to be angry, knows that it's harmless.

As to Father Christmas being scary to children... well he kind of is

My other friend who plays Father Christmas every year (and who is going over to Japan to play him there this Xmas) said pretty much exactly the same thing. I guess this means you both pass the test. :D

> Thanks dude. I don't know any other Santas that have researched the role as thoroughly as I

My other friend has also researched the role fairly thoroughly. ;)
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2007-11-26 06:59 am (UTC)
I think researching the role helps a hell of a lot with the difficult kids.

"Your costume is the wrong colour!"
"Do you have different clothes, so do I. I've had brown and green and blue and white..."

"Name the reindeers!"
"Okay, but first, you name the six white boomers..."

"Are you the real Santa?"
"Of course I'm real, you can touch me! But how do I know you're the real ____?"

So, I have to ask, how did he get a job Santa-ing in Japan? I've wanted to work there ever since passing up the role of Villain in a Japanese Wild West Show. A month over there playing Santa would so rock!
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[User Picture]From: purrdence
2007-11-26 11:31 am (UTC)
Why did you pass up the job?
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2007-11-27 12:42 am (UTC)
I would have had to be away for 18-24 months. Sharon would have had to stay behind to look after mum, because there would have been no-one else to do it, and that wouldn't have been fair on either of them.

I was in the shortlist for the job, based on my looks, and the fact I was a drover and could use a whip. I would have been trained to do a 30 foot fall from a tower at the end :)
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From: gutter_monkey
2007-11-26 12:28 pm (UTC)
Actually I don't how he got the job, but he's been over a few times so it's a recurring gig.
He's learnt Japanese specifically for the role. :D
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2007-11-27 12:42 am (UTC)
That is so awesome :)
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From: fe2h2o
2007-11-26 01:55 am (UTC)
Once again, a lovely read:-) I remember your fabulous posts from a couple of years ago, on being Santa:-)
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[User Picture]From: drhoz
2007-11-26 03:19 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: stephbg
2007-11-26 07:23 am (UTC)
Thank you for bringing back a little bit of the magic. I've had trouble getting past the foolishness of the "Ho ho ho" ban, and the slightly hysterical lowest uncommon denominator regulations such as "visible hands at all times!".
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2007-11-26 08:30 am (UTC)
Visible hands has been the norm since I took the part. That one isn't about protecting the kids, it's actually about protecting the performer from someone later claiming that their kids had been felt up by Santa.

Harder to push if you can see both hands in every photo.

And in this day and age of anyone who is even suspected (without proof) of having indulged in wrongful behaviour with kids being treated as a monster, it's sadly worth being careful.
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[User Picture]From: purrdence
2007-11-26 11:30 am (UTC)
I remember with bitter disappointment the first year my parents told me I was 'too old' to get my annual photo taken with Santa. By that point I knew it was a regular guy in the suit, but I still liked it anyway. Meeting the Finnish Father Christmas when I was 8 was really cool too. He's coming back to Perth this year - I should try to see if I can see him again.
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-11-28 05:26 pm (UTC)

Being Father Christmas

Thanks for your insights. I am to take on this demanding role this weekend at my grandchildren's school, so the big question is whether they will recognise me or not! I'll probably use a foreign accent and a guttural voice when they are around. I hope the whiskers are big enough to cover most of my face!
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