I met Santa Claus today

Finally finished my last minute Christmas shopping.

Exhausting.

Fighting my way through the mad crowd of ‘idiots’ that leave all shopping to the last minute.

Finally done, I arrive back at the car-park. All of a sudden I noticed a shadow in the corner of my eye. I squinted because what I saw didn’t make sense. Could it really be? Santa Claus here at a car park?!

Unfortunately he didn’t seem to be his usual jolly-self. There was a dark kind of sadness that surrounded him. Maybe all the stress and seasonal pressure has eventually gotten to him?

I silently watched him. He didn’t notice my staring because he was too busy with rearranging shopping trolleys at this car park. Trolleys that people left at random in their rush to drive away. It seemed strange somehow. Had he no better things to do during this important time of year. Or maybe he was just really OCD about trolleys being arranged in a neat queue?

It’s not every day that you get to meet Santa. So I slowly approached him thinking about something clever to say. I wasn’t sure how to initiate contact because it seemed that I have also caught him at a bad moment. It was only 10 AM but he must have already had a couple of egg-noggs too many, as he engaged in an incoherent conversation with himself.

Sometimes he whispering and laughing into his beard, … then all of a sudden violently shouting abuse at the universe. He was in worse shape than I thought. Not just mentally he seemed broken but also physically: certainly much fatter than his usual. There were dreadlocks that had formed from neglect in his massive beard. The white in his eyes had been replaced by a unhealthy yellow hue.

Wheezing in exhaustion, he bent over to pick up a 50 pence coin somebody dropped, then sceptically inspected it by holding it against the sunlight. His face was way too puffed up from all the drinking, he no longer looked like a kind fat old man but more like a homeless brother that has given up on the universe.

Not knowing what I could say that wasn’t too intruding, I just stood there trying to be casual and pretended not to stare.

A casual “Hello Santa! How are you?” was the smartest thing I could come up with. But he didn’t seem to hear me. So I came closer and tried again a bit louder. Startled he took a step back and looked in disbelief as if he wondered why a human being was able to see him. His eyes squinting with a mix of distrust and wariness while he studied me from top to toe, while sucking on whatever was left from the butt of a roll-up cigarette.

“Need a hand with that trolley, mate?”, I asked, trying to break the uncomfortable silence and get some basic conversation going.  He gave me an empty look and reached for the inside of his filthy stained red jacket.

It was once fine red wool which must have been very expensive, but now the color was faded. He looked tired and probably slept in his clothes. His whole outfit was wrinkled and the only reason the wrinkles weren’t easily noticeable was that he’d outgrown everything he wore, stretching all the buttons and some seams started to become undone.

Eventually he pulled out a silver flask from his jacket and took a big sip through his greasy, yellowish beard. The liqueur must have been strong because his whole body shook to keep down whatever it was that he drank.

Then he sighed and finally addressed me: “So you’re a believer? …. You believe in me?”

Confused I said, “Yes sure I do Santa. Doesn’t everyone?”. He started laughing like a mad-men, not like the jolly “Ho-Ho-Ho” you’d expect, but more of a wheezing, crazy laugh that mixed with a deep dry cough.

The poor old chap, must have picked up some nasty cold because there was sweat pearls on his forehead and his face was all flushed.

His words and actions actually made not much sense. Why was he anyway arranging these shopping trolleys as if it was the most important task that needed doing before Christmas? Shouldn’t he be racing across the sky in his sleigh with Rudolph and the Elves, delivering seasonal joy?

It must have been some kind of fever which made him delirious. The virus has taken over his mind, keeping him stuck outside a shopping center, and convincing himself that the world no longer needed or believed in him.

I sat down next to him and asked why he seemed so down and depressed.

“Oh son … You know … I’ve been doing this job since many years and it was so fun when I started. But recently I’ve been wondering what’s the point. Even young children these days think I’m a phony. I’m a laughing stock. I’m so tired. And to be frank, I no longer see the good in the world. Why should I carry on? Look at me, aye! What am I to do? I’m far too old to start afresh. And who would employ a grumpy old man like me anyway.”

I was puzzled and sad about him being so down. But trying to help I asked: “Have you tried looking at other careers, or apply for some jobs? Maybe look at some opportunities on LinkedIn?”, he laughed and said: “Sure son. But you know how hard it is to get any response from the hiring manager these days? I send my CV but people think I’m not real, like I was some kind of joke. They see my old face and already make up their mind, even before looking at my CV. And anyway those that do give me the benefit of a doubt, reject me because there is just no way of explaining the gaps on my resume. Sure you understand that my work is seasonal and by the time Christmas is over all I want is sleep. I hibernate like some of the animals because I need all the energy for next Christmas?!”

“But why are you sick Santa?”, I tried to win some time by steering the conversation into a different direction and think about all what he had just told me. “Well son. There’s been a lot of reshuffling in my organization. The boss wants us to work also during spring and summer because it’s all a universal economy now. We’re supposed to be on-duty all year around and help on other planets. Otherwise shareholders won’t be happy and if we don’t remain competitive they will outsource us to cheaper planets.”

“So it’s all the hard work that gets to you?” I asked. “No son. I worked all my life and hard work never bothered me. The thing that gets to me, and what makes me so sick, is that I no longer feel anyone cares about what I do. It’s all just about who is the cheapest. No matter how much you love your work or how much passion you bring to the job. In the end it will be decided by the greed of our shareholders.”

“Is this why you’re pushing trolleys Santa?”, I was curious. “The trolleys son. Ah hell, no … well guess you can’t know about that. Well the trolleys … we have the trolleys because they have axed our travel budget and instead of our shiny sleigh we now have to use these trolleys. Rudolph was the first one who has been made redundant. There is now no longer a need to upkeep a reindeer when you can deliver with these shiny trolleys. Reduce your OPEX and all that …”

This was worse than I thought. Poor Santa. It hurt seeing my hero so demotivated and down. I said to him, “Santa, but you know that you don’t actually need to put up with this job. Because apart from Christmas, when you work your hardest, people need you all year. Why don’t you spread your work out a bit over the different seasons? We all love you and need you. And the biggest gift you can give to anyone isn’t really material or delivered in trolley or a pompous sleigh once year. It’s when you work your magic and spread your love through other people. You make us feel that we’re needed and wanted and appreciated. The world needs this not just at Christmas but all year. Why don’t you find Rudolph and leave this silly company. Do what the two of you have always done best and felt passionate about. I’m sure people can never get enough of you. You ARE the product old chap! Don’t let them use you like that”

With these words I realized there was a flicker of passion back in his eyes. He rewarded me with a big jolly “ho-ho-ho!” that made me feel all warm and happy inside.

It’s when I realized that Santa is in every one of our hearts. Every one of us is Santa. We are Santa when we believe in others and give them hope and strength. And even most of us can’t see him, and therefore maybe have a hard time believing. He is as real as hunger, sadness, pain, joy or laughter.

A Merry Christmas to you all.

sleigh

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