Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A cheap Santa suit

Living in the Netherlands has some advantages. For example, we get to celebrate Christmas twice. The reason for this is that Christmas in Holland is a bit like a bank holiday. People take the day off, but it does not carry the same import as it does in the US and UK. You still see decorations and lights, but not to the same degree as in the US. The main event here is actually Sinterklaas, which takes place on December 5th. Sinterklaas (or “de Sint”) arrives by steamboat from Spain sometime during mid-November (a big event in itself), and he spends the next two weeks touring the country on his white horse (Amerigo) accompanied by scores of helpers who all go by the name of Zwarte Piet.

It is believed that the US and UK tradition of Santa Claus have their roots in Sinterklaas. There are similarities, but also some marked differences. And while Christmas may play second fiddle to Sinterklaas here in Holland (at least for the moment), there has definitely been an increase in the importance placed on Christmas in recent years, probably in part due to the influence of US cinema and television. Whatever the reason, we get to celebrate Christmas twice.

Many of my fondest memories center around Christmas. However, the one memory of Christmas that sticks in my mind the most is not my fondest memory, but certainly the most interesting. I have blogged about this elsewhere before, but I wanted to share it with you in case you are ever faced with a last minute request to play Santa Claus.

It started with me being approached one morning by a colleague at the gym where I used to work when I was a teenager. She and her husband were taking their young daughter to the kindergarten to see Santa. Unfortunately, the guy who was hired to play Santa was sick and they needed someone to fill in. The dad couldn't do it because he was organizing something else at the school. So they asked me and, without the wisdom of hindsight, I agreed.

We were already late by then and so I had to don the suit en-route in the back of their minibus. I was handed a pile of red and white material and a brown bag that I assumed was Santa’s sack. I put on the coat but it was too small. The arms finished about halfway down my forearms and I could not close it at the front no matter how I tried. Luckily, I had a red training vest on at the time, so this covered most of the gap with something that was at least vaguely red and with only a few holes. I shoved a towel under the vest to make a “belly” and managed to get the belt closed. Next came the trousers which, although they fit around my waist, were way too short. I pulled them down but I still had a three-inch gap between the hems and the tops of my white training socks. Then I put on the beard and tried to secure it to my face as best I could. We reached the kindergarten just as I finished getting dressed. I grabbed the sack and we all climbed out and rushed towards the school entrance. It was then that I spotted my reflection in a window.

To be fair, I am sure I wasn't the least convincing-looking Santa there has ever been, but I must have been pretty close. The three of us stopped in our tracks. The mom turned to look at the monstrosity they were planning pass off to their daughter and her class mates as the actual, genuine, Santa Claus. And laughed. It was one of those laughs where, had she been drinking coffee, she would have sprayed it out of her nose. I was a little taken aback. Then I caught a glimpse of myself in a window.

I was wearing white training shoes and socks. The red trousers were more like long shorts, revealing a three-inch gap of hairy calf. A black leather belt was struggling to hold my misshapen belly in place behind a faded red vest. The coat with its narrow strip of white trim could not close and neither it nor the scraggly fake beard could cover the dark patch of chest hair peeking out over the top of the vest. The beard itself was too small and I could only get the one hook to stay behind my ear, which made the whole thing sit crooked on my face. On top of my head, crowning the whole ensemble, was a floppy red hat with off-white trim. Add to that the fact that I had a dark tan courtesy of the formidable African sun, and I looked the way the actual Santa might look after spending five years as a castaway on a tropical island.

The kids were great but I doubt they were convinced. I did my best, asking them what they wanted for Christmas and punctuating my words with plenty of hearty “ho-ho-ho”s, but all wore that expression that suggests a desire to believe tempered by serious doubts. One kid looked me square in the eye and said: “you’re not the real Santa are you?”

What could I say? All the kids were staring at me with wide eyes. I looked to my colleague and she nodded emphatically, so I crumbled under the pressure and lied. I did not want to be the one to destroy their belief in Santa Claus. I suspect, however, that by then it was too late. I think that if the real Santa had turned up at that point, they would have been pulling on his beard to check if it was real, and they would probably have asked him the same question they asked me.

I have never been asked to do anything like that since, but if it did ever happen again I would at least make sure to try on the suit first. And I would be sure to have a morally sound response ready should a child inquire as to my authenticity.

In closing I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year. Wherever you are and however you celebrate the birth of our Saviour, I wish you joy and peace.

And to those spending the day dressed as Santa Claus, may your suit be a convincing one or, at the very least, the right size.


  1. Oh dear, I coudn't help laughing at the picture you conveyed, paul!

  2. At least it made for a memorable Christmas that year!