See through Santa's eyesNov 29, 2022 01:54PM ● By Noah LeVia
It started in the late 1960s as a lark, an escapade, an adventure. I was living in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I was jobless. Oh, I was “self-employed” in the sense that I peddled my handmade macramé belts, headbands, flowerpot hangers and handbags out of a baby carriage. Those were my hippie days, garbed in a tie-dyed shirt, bell-bottom pants and headband, hawking my wares as I pushed the colorfully string-festooned carriage along sidewalks. Requisite shoulder-length hair and a full beard completed my freak look, as we often called ourselves then.
With the Christmas season fast approaching, I was thinking I could use some extra spending money. Then it hit me: I could be a Santa!
After all, those were the days when real-bearded Santas were rare, and with my full beard and long hair, I thought I just might have a chance in securing a Santa gig for the season. My hair and beard were red, but that wasn’t anything a little bleach couldn’t fix.
So, dressed as conservatively as possible, I approached the manager of a downtown department store and convinced him to hire me as Santa.
It was a Christmas miracle when I look back on it. The manager of an upscale, name-brand department store hiring a hippie off the street who said he would bleach his beard so the store could have a real-bearded Santa? Unheard of! But it happened!
With help from friends, I home-bleached my hair and beard and unbeknownst to me at the time, I began a career that would last roughly 40 years. Department store and mall gigs gave way to town Santas, and as professional entertainers, my wife and I portrayed Yuletide characters for years in numerous venues as we presented our special Christmas show.
The first few years as a mall Santa remained a light-hearted lark. That changed the day a driver had an emergency medical event and drove his car through a mall’s plate glass windows into a group of school children that had just finished visiting Santa and were heading out to board their school bus. I heard the boom, the clatter of glass crashing, and the screams of adults and children.
I suppose I could have remained on the Santa seat without blame. However, in that instant, the thought arose that I am Santa—and Santa comforts. Those kids needed Santa now.
I rose from my throne, rode down the escalator, and walked into a horrendous spectacle of hysterical children, some lying injured, some standing in shock and sobbing, all horror struck.
About the only thing I remember is kneeling, holding children, soothing them and telling them it would be all right. It was as if the spirit of Santa called and I heard and answered, not knowing what I would do or say when I came upon that scene. It didn’t matter. Santa knew what to say even if I didn’t.
From that moment forward, my portrayal of Santa transformed from a trivial escapade into a serious purpose, from a superficial adventure into a meaningful mission. Santa has a profoundly deep empathetic, loving, soothing, quiet side to his merry joviality and jolliness—a side I found that day.
As the years passed, Santa’s spirit and I became more intimately acquainted. I began to see through his eyes, understanding an unfathomable, unconditional acceptance of every person as an equal member within the family of humanity. I recognized a basic goodness within each of us.
Sadly, I also saw an unwittingly misguided ignorance that utilizes Santa as a stern controller who rewards good children and punishes naughty ones. I witnessed a mother staring out a store window so anxious her husband would find a parking spot she completely missed the remarkably beautiful experience her daughter was having with Santa and Mrs. Claus behind her. Through Santa’s eyes I saw the world’s angst embodied in that woman, an anxiety blind to beauty in all its forms. I watched parents commit unconscious abuse as they forced panicked, terrified toddlers upon Santa in order to get a cute photo.
I also saw the absolutely innocent, deep-seated wonder in children’s eyes as they marveled at the incredible pageantry and colors of the Christmas season. I beheld the joy, cheer, gladness and optimism this annual celebration imparts to our fellow humans in the midst of a wintry, cold, dark world. I saw rekindled hopes, dreams and promises of a kinder, gentler caring humanity.
Will I ever see through Santa’s eyes again? I would not have to bleach my hair or beard now. That suit I last wore in 2010 still hangs in my closet, the boots tucked underneath the robe.
I’ve seen extraordinary sights through Santa’s eyes: an elderly man on the back edge of a large mall crowd saluting me on my throne, troubled teens hugging each other after a Santa visit and jaded adults weeping as, somehow, childhood Christmas hurts were healed.
Through Santa’s eyes I’ve seen hurting and happiness, depression and delight, anguish and awe.
Most of all, I’ve seen benevolence, generosity, kindness and genuine appreciation for others. I’ve seen the good. It’s there for all to see if we look through Santa’s eyes.