It’s no secret to true believers in Santa Claus that he employs helpers during the month of December.
Santa is busy at the North Pole supervising the elves in their final rush of toy manufacturing. He also has to make sure the sleigh is ready to go and that Rudolph eats enough carrots so his nose will glow bright in case a fog settles in on Christmas eve.
Then there are the final touches on the naughty-and-nice list.
In today’s modern world, Santa could compile the master list of who wants what by using Skype and Twitter, but the jolly old man is old-fashioned enough to insist on a personal touch. Which leads to my involvement: For several years, I have been enlisted by Mr. Claus as one of his authorized helpers.
I have often been asked why I help out Santa. It all started the year I first felt the real spirit of Christmas.
When I was young — my kids hate it when I start off telling a story with those words — I used to get an allowance of $5 a month. That was back when a full-sized candy bar was only a dime, a gallon of gas was fifty cents and a gallon of milk was less than a dollar.
I used to save a portion of each month’s allowance so I would have money at the end of the year to buy Christmas presents for each member of my family. My father used to match any money I had saved up by December, so $20 saved up could become $40 to spend on gifts. I only had to promise to buy something extra special for my mother.
I never was able to just think of the ideal gift for somebody and run into a store and pick it up. Instead, I would wander through stores and look until I saw a gift that made me think of one of the people on my list. This method required several trips to the same store as I browsed and thought about the people on my list.
My favorite store to shop at was called SeaMart. It was at end of Capitol Way in downtown Olympia, Wash. They had everything imaginable under one roof. Outside the front door stood a volunteer ringing a bell at a collection kettle for the Salvation Army. I put a quarter in the kettle every time I went into the store.
One year I came up with a different approach to the kettle. Every time I made a purchase I kept the coins in my pocket and put the dollar bills back in my wallet. The next time I made a purchase I would use the bills out of my wallet and put the coins in my pocket. When I was all done shopping for everybody, I went down to SeaMart and reached deep into my pockets and pulled out all my coins and dropped them in the Salvation Army kettle.
I had no idea how much money I dropped into the kettle that year, but it took several trips to my pockets to retrieve all the change I had managed to store up. As I dropped the money in the kettle, I felt good inside. I had no idea what the Salvation Army did with the money in their kettles, I just knew it went to do something good for somebody somewhere.
The thought of helping somebody I didn’t even know warmed my heart in a way I felt for the first time.
This experience left a deep impression on me, especially as I contemplated the birth of the Christ child.
The traditional story of the original Christmas may have a few embellishments beyond that recorded in scriptures or the corrected events properly rectified by biblical scholars, but the idea of Mary, about ready to give birth, and Joseph traveling alone on the back of a donkey while in route to Bethlehem because some earthly king wanted to collect taxes was firmly embedded in my mind.
That year, as I dropped my hard-earned change into the kettle, I experienced the joy of sacrifice to help others and my understanding of the story of the first Christmas increased.
Through the years Christmas remained a magical time for me as I looked for opportunities to make a small sacrifice help somebody. My first experience with helping Santa came many years later while I was on an LDS mission and my mission president coerced me into dressing up as an elf to deliver packages for missionaries at zone conferences.
When I returned home from my mission, I received a promotion and was invited to be Santa Claus for our ward Christmas party.
The real joy of becoming the big guy in the red suit hit my heart a few years later, after meeting and marrying my still wonderful and young wife. One year at Thanksgiving time we were blessed with the news that after three years of marriage we were finally going to become parents. We were overjoyed and took the opportunity of Thanksgiving to make the announcement to our family.
Our joy was short-lived as a few weeks later we experienced a miscarriage.
Just a a few short days after the miscarriage, how many I can’t recall, I was to play Santa Claus for our ward Christmas party. I had to hold back tears of sadness as I played the role of the jolly old elf and invited each young child to sit on my knee. The opportunity to hold a baby in my arms dressed as St. Nick and pose for a picture however warmed my heart and made my eyes swell with joy.
It was a bittersweet experience.
It’s now some 21 years later and we have been blessed with two wonderful children and I’m still helping out Santa Claus.
I think it is because being Santa Claus helped me get through that one dark Christmas that I love putting on the suit to become the sprightly bringer of good cheer to children. There is something about seeing the brightness of hope in a child’s eyes that brings back the same feeling I felt when I dropped those coins in that kettle many long years ago.