Tag Archives: Santa


My column for December 2016…

When we lived in Pittsburgh some 25 years ago, I stood in for St. Nicholas at a couple of corporate Christmas parties.Fake-bearded and properly pillowed (I was thinner then, and clean-shaven), I’d wander from table to table, inviting folks to share their holiday wishes. Rather than extravagant desires for Porsches and diamonds, I was gratified – and a little surprised, frankly – to hear folks express instead a general sense of contentment, and gratitude for their health, their families, and their friends.

I’d had some training from a temp agency that provided Santas to the various department stores around town. (They called their training program the “University of Santa Claus.”) There were a few basic rules – simple enough when you hear them, but not necessarily what you might think of yourself. I’ll share some of them here for any of you who might find yourselves doing Santa duty this year:

  • Keep a twinkle in your eye at all times.
  • Never let loose with a big “HO, HO, HO!!” – you might startle or even terrify a small child. Restrained chuckles will work just fine.
  • If a child does start crying, sympathize with them and gently return them to their adult – your attempts to make them stop will usually just make matters worse. You’re bigger than life, after all, and maybe a little intimidating, despite your twinkle. Keeping your good cheer about you, tell the adult the child may return ”whenever they’re ready.”
  • Never ask about a child’s “parents” – after all, you don’t know what their situation is.
  • Always refer to yourself as “Santa,” not “I” or “me” – for example, “Come talk to Santa!” or “What would you like to ask Santa today?”
  • And most importantly: NEVER promise ANYTHING – the best response is some variation on “Hmmm. Santa will see what he can do.”

So what would I say if Santa aimed his twinkly gaze at me and asked, “So, Skip – come tell Santa what you’d like this year”?

All I want for Christmas…? Well, I can’t say I’m content, exactly, though I am certainly grateful for the many blessings I’ve had in my life so far. There’s just one thing I’d wish for:

A slightly better world.

Liberals are sometimes criticized for harboring utopian beliefs in the “perfectibility” of humankind. It’s a theological and philosophical debate that goes all the way back to ancient Greece, and I’m certainly not going to try to rehash it all here. But our imperfectibility, I’d argue, while pretty obvious, is also no excuse for not trying to make things better… even if only slightly.

Let there be a slightly better world …

  • where it isn’t quite so easy to cause harm
  • where people are a little less reckless with themselves and each other
  • where facts have a bit more power than demagogues
  • where jerks don’t get rewarded just for being jerks
  • where simple kindness is the default choice
  • where it’s harder to make profit from war
  • where we have learned the meaning of “enough” and “too much”
  • where love is always natural and hate is always a disease
  • where we better understand the actual costs of things
  • where the laughter of children outweighs any item on any balance sheet

I hope that’s not too much to ask for … oh yes, I know: Santa will see what he can do.

Happy Holidays to you, whatever your path – and best of luck to us all in 2017.



The North Pole
December 2015

My Dear Friends:

We trust that you are having the best holiday season possible, given present circumstances. A few questions have been definitely trending, as they say, in Santa’s mailbag so far this year, so all of us here at the Workshop appreciate Mr. Mendler making this space available to us so that we can address some of these concerns.

First off, Santa would like to reassure his younger correspondents that Rudolph and the crew are all fine. The Workshop, despite its “North Pole” location, is not directly affected by issues such as the loss of polar sea ice, or the rising of ocean levels. (One could say that we are “above” such things, in a certain sense; this is also, by the way, why we don’t show up on Google Maps.) That is not to say we are not deeply concerned about the issue of climate change. We have been following the negotiations in Paris with great interest, though Santa must admit that he is not optimistic for any major breakthroughs any time soon. The traditional threat of lumps of coal as a penalty for misbehavior seems to have no effect on fossil fuel company executives and their governmental representatives, as you can well imagine. Please write your elected officials – and be sure to tell them Santa sent you!

Santa treats all requests on an individual basis, as you know – but as a general rule, we do not deal in heavy armaments. So those of you requesting rocket-powered grenades for “home defense,” or looking to get an AK-47 or an AR-15 because you “want to take up hunting,” may find yourselves disappointed on Christmas morning. Santa knows who the real hunters are, and is more than happy to help keep you guys and gals well-supplied with warm socks, sturdy tree stands, and the latest in field-dressing tools. Armor-piercing bullets? Not so much.

Speaking of armaments… that brings us to our last topic for this letter. Many of you have written regarding the refugee situation in the Mediterranean, and wondering what Santa can do. Santa’s ability to reach into war zones is severely limited; security measures make it a challenge even to get into the refugee camps in other countries. For these needs, therefore, Santa has to count on you for assistance.

There are many organizations whose work you can help with your donations, including the well-known ones like UNHCR, Unicef, Oxfam, the International Red Cross, International Rescue Committee, and Save the Children. Santa would like to give a special shout-out this year to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), whose facilities in Yemen were recently hit by bombing raids.

A recent story on public radio (http://www.pri.org/…/5-groups-doing-important-work-help-ref…) listed a number of other less famous organizations that are also providing worthwhile assistance, including:
Migrant Offshore Aid Station (www.moas.eu)
“Flüchtlinge Willkommen” (“Refugees Welcome” – www.refugees-welcome.net)
“The Worldwide Tribe in Calais” (www.facebook.com/theworldwidetribe)
Small Projects Istanbul (www.smallprojectsistanbul.org)
The Karam Foundation (www.karamfoundation.org),
Hand in Hand for Syria (www.handinhandforsyria.org.uk).
Santa has also learned of a group called Clowns without Borders (www.cwb-international.org) that has been doing amazing work with children in refugee camps!

Wherever you feel moved to help, making a donation in someone else’s behalf is a wonderful present – and Santa doesn’t have to carry a thing! So please consider that option for the people in your life who have what they need already.

From Santa and all of us at the North Pole, best wishes for a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Prosperous and Peaceful New Year!


(with apologies to Donovan)

Christmas Eve I could not sleep
Crept downstairs to take a peek
To find that he was by the tree
Laughing oh so merrily
Twas then that the Holly Jolly Man
Came with his bag of toys
Then when the Holly Jolly Man
Came bringing bags of toys

“Holly Jolly, Holly Jolly, Holly Jolly, Jolly,” he sang (3x)

(instrumental bridge)

Memories of Christmas past
Candlelight his spell is cast
Down the years without a pause
The “ho ho ho” of Santa Claus
Tis then that the Holly Jolly Man
Comes singing songs of joy
Then when the Holly Jolly Man
Comes singing songs of joy

“Holly Jolly, Holly Jolly, Holly Jolly, Jolly,” he sang
“Holly Jolly, Holly Jolly, Holly Jolly, Holly Jolly…”
“Holly Jolly, Holly Jolly, Holly Jolly, Jolly,” he sang
“Holly Jolly, Holly Jolly, Holly Jolly, Jolly,” he sang
Here comes the Jelly Belly Man and he’s singing songs of joy
“Jelly Belly, Jelly Belly, Jelly Belly, Belly,” he sang
“Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas,” he sang
“Holly Jolly, Holly Jolly, Holly Jolly, Jolly,” he sang… (repeat ad lib. to fade)