Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Stan Berenstain goes home

A friend of children has died.

I just got word that Stan Berenstain passed away Saturday. He and his wife Jan
created the Berenstain Bears.

The bears deal with many of the issues that children face in life. In the end, family and caring about others win out in the stories.

I am sad for his wife and family at their loss. But I also rejoice that he has gone on to his reward.

Those who bring happiness to children have a special place in heaven.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Christmas songs

I love Christmas songs.

I love the old classics – full of reverence and a sense of wonder for the birth that we celebrate.

I love the modern classics, full of joy of the season.

I love the songs celebrating the other characters of the season – Frosty, and Rudolph, and others.

We play them at the North Pole year round.

I never tire of them.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Anna's gift to me

I received a letter today from Anna, a woman who has been writing to me since she was a child.

As Anna grew older, and others her age stopped writing, she joined her younger siblings when they wrote.

Then she married and had her own children with whom she wrote.

Now they are all grown, and Anna has begun writing with her grandchildren.

She tells people she writes just to encourage them and help them keep the magic of Christmas alive. Maybe, but she also has a sign in her house that reads, “I still believe.”

I’ve always enjoyed her letters. Instead of just listing what she wants, she asks questions about me, my wife, the elves, the North Pole, and so on. She also tells me about her life – all the events of the past year, the boys she liked (when she was younger), trips, her husband's ice cream business, the events in her children’s lives, etc.

She has also occasinally written me stories and poems full of love and joy, which she illustrated. I still have them.

And she never fails to thank me for the gifts she received the last Christmas.

Sometimes, she reflects on the world. She did so in this year’s letter.

“People are putting their Christmas decorations out earlier and earlier. Bill (he’s the father of Timmy and Natasha, both of whom I’m sure are on your nice list) [They are.], put his lights up a two weeks before Thanksgiving and has his Santa and reindeer display already lighted. There are many other displays up in the neighborhood.

"I think people are doing it because they are sad. There are so many terrible things happening in our world, so they want to h9ld on to something that gives them joy. It’s a way to push away the sadness for a while.”

Ah, I have seen much sadness in my many centuries of life. These are sad times, but there have been times as sad or sadder in the past.

I’m sure there will be more sad times in the future, too.

But as long as there are people like Anna who look for what is beautiful in life and the world, the sadness will never win.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Hippie Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my friends in the United States.

For us at the North Pole, this is just a regular day of work. We don’t have any American elves at this time.

In fact, we have had very few elves from the U. S. in our entire history.

Elves tend to live in Europe. I have met a few from the States. They or their ancestors moved over with those who emigrated to the U.S. But only a few elves did so, and so their numbers are relatively small.

About 35 years we did have two elves who were from the U.S. They were cousins who had decided to “find themselves” Hippie elves!

They were an interesting pair.

They wore colorful clothes – even by elvish standards. They promoted vegetarianism. They promoted non-violence and opposed the Vietnam War. They tried to teach the other elves transcendental meditation.

They did celebrate Thanksgiving one time while here. But, of course, the feast was all vegetarian. It was at that feast that I tasted tofu for the first time. Groovy.

After about two years, they left to live at a commune in Kentucky.

They still live in Kentucky, though no longer on a commune. They make wooden toys that they sell on the internet. The money raised helps to support a community center run by a priest in an impoverished region of Kentucky.

The priest is Irish. Maybe there’s a bit of the wee folk in him!

So Happy Thanksgiving to them, too.

Oh, and “Peace.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The holiday season nears

No sun today. Cloudy, and -15 (F).

Ah, North Pole weather!

It makes it easier to stay in the shops and get soem work done.

The final push is on. Just 32 days left until Christmas Eve.

In the United States, Thanksgiving Day - the fourth Thursday in November - traditionally marks the beginning fo the Christmas season. Of course, many stores and mallls have gotten an early start.

My friend Lee, who helps me with this blog, just e-mailed me to say he had gotten a job as a mall Santa.

I've been telling him for years to give it a go. I'm happy for him.

Now, back to work!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Santa's Lap

In thinking of the men and women who play me, I remembered a poem someone once sent me.

I don’t know who wrote it. Maybe someone out there can tell me.

Santa's Lap

I like to visit Santa Claus
When Christmastime is near.
It's fun to climb up on his lap
And whisper in his ear.

He says, "My dear, have you been good?
Have you done what Mother said you should?
Do you brush your teeth and hair each day?
Are you kind to others when you play?

I listen to each question
And answer every one.
Although I am ashamed to say
I must say no to some.

But Santa never scares me;
He doesn't even scold.
He just says, "Try again, my dear,
You're a fine lad, I am told."

Gee, I like to visit Santa Claus
When Christmastime is near.
It's fun to climb up on his lap
And whisper in his ear...

Saturday, November 19, 2005

To all those who play me ...

Writing about John Irons yesterday made me think of al the men – and women – who portray me around the world.

Oh, there are so many variations of me – tall, short, fat, skinny, all races and colors, dressed in red, green brown, white and bishop’s robes.

So many of my “helpers” – as I like to call them - are dedicated to the spirit of Christmas, and, of course, to the children.

And so many of them recognize the true meaning of Christmas and my ministry – serving the Child who came to redeem us all.

They do me honor. So I want to say thank you to all of them.

Friday, November 18, 2005

A yes to a request

I’m still trying to catch up with all the mail that arrived while we were away in Western New York.

There are many wonderful and moving letters. One of them, though, touched me.

It was a letter from a Native American who wants to play me.

John Irons is an Iroquois. A Seneca, to be exact – a tribe, that coincidentally, once dominated Western New York.

He now lives in Billings Montana.

He has been asked to play me at the Christmas Party and for the children’s ward in the hospital where he is a nurse.

“My people have a tradition,” he wrote. “A storyteller seeks permission to tell a story he learned form another storyteller. This is especially true when he is telling a story from another people.

“So in that tradition, I ask permission to play you, and to tell your story. I will tell the true story, and some of the stories that have grown about you.”

He also told me of his life. He is in his 50s, a Vietnam veteran who drifted for a time into drink and drugs. He then found nursing. He also rediscovered his own roots. And he rediscovered his Catholic faith.

A resurrection of sorts.

I was touched by his story, and his humbleness in asking permission to play me.

I have already written him back.

Of course he may play me. He may tell my stories. He may help to create more stories about me.

I would be honored.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Back home

It’s good to be back home at the North Pole.

Of course, there are parts of our visit to Western New York I miss.

We enjoyed several sunny days there when temperatures hit the 60s (F) – and even the 70s.

Yesterday, the sun rose here shortly after 11 a.m., and set around 3 p.m. And when I looked at the thermometer, it was -6.

The elves, gnomes and dwarves have been busy. The extra hands with our new residents have helped us to keep up with the growing demand.

For while the world has changed, my visit showed me that the spirit and joy of Christmas remains.

With all the wars, famines, droughts, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, monsoons, plagues, and assorted other disasters, in fact, I think some people are even more hungry for it than they have been in years.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A job offer

One other amusing moment occurred during our visit to the Strong Museum in Rochester at the induction ceremony for the Toy Hall of Fame.

Shortly after the ceremony, Mrs. Claus and I were looking at a doll exhibit. A little girl was looking at the dolls too.

She turned to me and pointed to a sign.

“What does that say?”

I squatted down next to her and read the sign. It was something about where the dolls had been made.

I was concerned that the girl was alone.

“Where are your parents,” I asked.

“I don’t know. What does that say?” she asked, pointing to another sign.

I decided to stay with her. My wife stood with us. If no one showed up, we could take her to security.

I walked around with her and read some of the other signs. Finally, her mother – who had obviously been looking for her – rushed up to us.

“There you are,” she said with obvious relief. Then she looked at me warily.

“She has been helping me read the signs,” I said cheerily.

“He knows a lot about dolls,” the girl said to her mother. “Is he Santa?”

I laughed. Her mother did, too. After thanking us, she led the girl away.

At that point a large man approached us. He extended his hand.

We shook.

“My name is Don,” he said. “You are good with children.”

“I like them.”

“It shows,” he said. “I work at a local mall and at parties as Santa. They’re always looking for more people, and I get too many calls for parties to handle them all. I think you’d be a natural. And you have your own beard already. Have you ever thought of playing Santa Claus?”

“It has crossed my mind.”

He took out a card and gave it to me.

“Give me a call it you’re interested. I think you’d be great.”

I thanked him.

Gee, maybe I’ve found a part-time job for the holidays!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

A Christmas gift idea!

Although I've enjoyed our two-week trip to Western New York to survey the latest toys and the spirit of Christmas in the land, I got my biggest laugh yesterday thanks to something that often just gets thrown out.

A cardboard box.

Mrs. Claus and I attended induction ceremonies at the National Toy Hall of Fame. That's located in the Strong Museum in Rochester, N.Y.

I'd heard of both the museum and the Hall of Fame. I'd wanted to see both for a while, and our trip happily coincided with the induction ceremony.

The museum contains a delightful collection of dolls and toys, and has many exhibits aimed right at children. I recommend it.

The Hall of Fame is six years old. It already includes the likes of Barbie, Mr. Potato Head, Lincoln Logs, and the Slinky.

The induction ceremonies on Friday added the Candy Land game and the Jack-in-the-Box.

And the cardboard box!

It seems that children often have more fun playing with the boxes than the toys and gifts that came in them.

That's true. How many boxes have been turned into forts, sleds, helmets, robot costumes, and so on?

Museum officials said that boxes-as-toys have fostered learning and creativity - so cardboard boxes qualify for the Hall of Fame!

I laughed so loud at the announcement that several people looked at me.

Friday, November 11, 2005


One of the places we stopped was Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.

There’s a visitor’s center, and a nearby winery. A winery that sells mead.

We first went to the refuge. It covers several thousand acres of marshland and waterways. The area is part of the flyway for migrating birds at the northern end of Cayuga Lake. Tens of thousands of birds stop there on their way south in the fall and north in the spring.

The park has a small office/gift shop.

I bought a Montezuma hat. (Yes, Santa sometimes acts like a tourist.)

Near the visitor’s center there is a small tower. People can climb it to look out over the marshlands at all the birds.

Mrs. Claus and I were enjoying the view when she started to laugh.

When I looked at her questioningly, she pointed down.

The tower was surrounded by a herd of deer!

Because of my special relationship with reindeer, all of their relatives have a fondness for me.

Well, I climbed down and greeted them all with a pat, and a carrot or two (amazing how much you can carry when you have pockets made of the same magic material as the Christmas gift sack!).

A family happened to be driving by, heading into the preserve to see the birds. You should have seen the look on the two children’s faces. A jolly, plump, white bearded man surrounded by deer.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

We then stopped at the Montezuma Winery just down the road.

I’d heard they sold good mead. I was not disappointed.

During the wine tasting, I tried as many of the mead varieties as I could. They were wonderful!

Mrs. Claus tried some of the fruit wines.

She let me try her Cranberry Bog. Delicious.

Now, let me say something here for my younger readers.

Santa is an adult. He does drink beer, wine, and other spirits – but always responsibly. I never have more than a glass or two, and I never drive the sleigh for at least an hour after a drink!

Anyway, we picked out several bottles to buy, and went to the check out.

The clerk was a young woman with a nose ring in her nose.

After she tallied our total for the bottles we’d brought to the counter, she asked, “Will there be anything else?”

“Yes. I’d like to have some mead shipped.”

“Fine. How many bottles?”

“Fifty cases each of your dry, sweet and semisweet, and ten cases of your Cherry Honey Wine.”

I thought her jaw was going to fall off.

“I, ah, I, um. I have to get the manager.”

She rushed to the back of the store, and returned a moment later with a young man.

“I understand you want to place a large order,” he said.

“Yes, 160 cases total.”

“Are you associated with a liquor store?” he asked suspiciously.

“No. But I run a factory in an isolated place. The workers live on site for long periods of time. We have to bring in all our supplies. And my workers have a fondness for mead.”

Indeed, the elves love their mead!

Well, he had to make a call to meadery home office.

It took close to half an hour, but we got final approval. They even gave us a discount.

I arranged to have the mead shipped to Zbigniew Ting’s place in Moosenee, Canada

As I paid, I told the manager, “By the way, we may be ordering more.”

“I think I’d like to see this place where they like mead this much,” the manager said.

I chuckled.

“Many folks feel the same way.”

As we left, I turned and waved.

“Thank you. And Merry Christmas!”

His eyes widened suddenly.

Sometimes it’s fun to be Santa!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Trip update

Sorry I have not written in a while. We have been moving about.

It has been an enjoyable trip so far. We have seen many beautiful sites. The multi-colored leaves of the Finger Lakes hills reminded are magnificent. The lakes are beautiful, too.

And we have tasted may fine wines, some good mead, and even some beer.

We visited Naples, N.Y., and also tried grape pie. It was delicious.

As for toys, many of the toys are the same or similar to the dolls, blocks, games, and whatnot that have been popular for years. Oh, there are some tie-ins to television and movie character, and even video games, but on the whole, the toy market is the same.

At the North Pole, we don’t compete with the video game/computer market anyway.

As enjoyable as the trip has been, however, I am looking forward to returning home.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The trip begins: Halloween

The trip is on!

Shortly after church on Sunday, Zbigniew Ting flew Mrs. Claus and me from the North Pole for a “scouting mission.”

I have tried to make such a trip every year. The goal is to see how the spirit of Christmas lives. I also want to see what children are like, and the kinds of things they want for Christmas.

Yeas ago, I made the trip around the time of the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. That used to be the beginning of the Christmas season.

No more.

Now the Christmas displays begin to go up in stores even before Halloween.

Such is the case this year.

After Zbigniew delivered us to Toronto, we rented a car and drove south to Western New York, where we plan to visit this year.

And yes, I do drive. Despite what my wife says, I do a fine job of it!

We crossed the U.S. Canadian border at the Peace Bridge. Although there have been new rules in place because of the fear of terrorism, we had no problem. I have a special visa signed by the President of the United States.

We stopped at a mall.

There were Christmas displays up.

In one store, I went to the clearance section where all the Halloween items were for sale at reduced prices – even though Halloween was still that night! – and boght some candy corn.

I’m partial to candy corn.

It was at that clearance section that I had my first real contact with children.

A girl who looked to be about six and her mother were looking through the costumes that were left. From their clothes, I guessed that they could not afford to spend much.

The selection was poor. Horrible looking monster and skeleton masks. A hockey mask with a knife stuck in it. Several cartoonish super heroes.

Nothing that would suit a six-year-old girl.

They were about to leave. The girl looked sad, but resigned.

“Excuse me,” I said, reaching into my shopping bag. “I changed my mind about this, but I think it would fit you daughter.”

I pulled out a cat costume.

“You could draw on a few whiskers with that makeup kit,” I said, pointing to remainder bin.

The girl brightened.

The mother looked for the price tag.

“I already paid for it,” I said. “Happy Halloween.”

I turned and left quickly before the woman could say anything.
“You are an old softy,” my wife said. She had seen the whole thing. “And what was the idea of doing a bit of gift magic this early?”

We later saw the mother and daughter across the parking lot. They were waiting at the bus stop. The girl was holding the costume. The mother looked relieved.

Last night, we stayed in a bed and breakfast near Batavia. Today, we are in Rochester. We will stay in a motel tonight, then travel south and east. I want to spend some time in the Finger Lakes region.

I’ve never been there before.

Well, except on Christmas Eve, of course.