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home : opinions : commentary April 29, 2016

12/24/2013 12:42:00 PM
Former Santa Claus remembers
By Jose Magallan

At an early age in our town in Texas, my brother and I saw a flyer announcing that the town's Kiwanis Club would be distributing Christmas stockings at the local theater after which all kids would be allowed to watch cowboy movies. The day of the giveaway, my brother and I were there very early in the morning to get our Christmas stockings.

Seeing the many Kiwanians with their red Santa Claus hats volunteering to distribute the Christmas stockings made a lasting impression on me.

In 1980 after 23 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, I was invited to join a new Kiwanis Club that was being formed in my town of Oceanside, Calif. Remembering that earlier encounter with Kiwanis and my desire to give back to the community, I said yes.

The first couple of years in Kiwanis were uneventful and it was hard to keep the club going. One of our members was a teacher and recommended that we adopt an elementary school in our district. The school was about 80 percent Hispanic.

When the first Christmas holiday came around, they requested that we provide a bilingual Santa. It was my first assignment and I was nervous. I arrived at the school and a woman volunteer dressed up as an elf was there to help me.

Never had I had so much fun listening to the children sing Christmas songs in English and Spanish. Their faces lit up when they came to sit on my lap and tell me what they wished for Christmas.

That scene has been repeated over many years. There was no place to change clothes, so I would put my Santa suit on at home, drive down the freeway to the school with all kinds of drivers honking their horns and waving at me, Santa.

One year as I was ready to leave the school, the elf that was helping me said a kid named Fernando wanted to talk with me. He came up and sat on my lap. It seems Fernando's family had moved to another home in town and he wanted to give me his new address and directions. I promised I would not forget him and his family.

When the first war in Iraq started, Camp Pendleton deployed most of the Marines and their families stayed on the base. The Armed Forces YMCA had heard about me and they asked if I would be their Santa Claus that Christmas. The toy stores, big department stores and donations of toys came from many people.

On the day of the event, my Kiwanis Club members helped me pass out toys for more than eight hours straight. After all the children had gone and I was getting ready to leave, a volunteer lady of about 75 years old came up to me and said, “Santa, since I was a little girl I have wanted to sit on Santa’s lap but I never did. May I sit on your lap now?”

I took her hand and sat her on my lap and she started crying thanking me for granting her that wish. The next day we were on the front page of one of the San Diego newspapers.

Our daughter worked in a facility which had a cluster of homes for young disabled men. They heard about me dressing up as Santa so soon that was on my schedule, too. However, it became a family affair with my wife, Carol, dressed as Mrs. Claus.

In December 1999 I had a quintuple by-pass. The newspaper learned about it and ran a story that I would not be playing Santa that year, and that this Santa needed prayers from everyone.

It took me about a year to get back into my Santa suit. A friend of mine worked in one of the department stores in town and asked if I could be Santa Claus in their store because it was located in the Hispanic part of town, and I agreed. Afterwards, I got a letter from the store saying that I had been the best Santa Claus they had ever had in the store.

I put on my Santa suit a couple of times more to cheer up some of my friends during Christmas as they were recuperating from their own illnesses.

My wife and I moved to Prescott Valley in May 2002, and in October I started work at the Prescott Valley Wells Fargo Bank. Word got around that I was a retired Santa, and my bank manager asked me if I would put on the suit again. For the next few years Santa was at the bank every Christmas. 

Cancer cut my Santa career again. It was successfully removed and so far has not returned.

Merry Christmas to all!

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