For the 72nd year, that jolly old elf makes an early appearance today for a couple of hundred kids in downtown Tampa.
The Downtown Kiwanis Club has been putting this event on for that long, having the local schools bring in children, especially those having difficult times, to the Forum for lunch, gifts and a visit with Santa himself.
For the last dozen years or so I’ve had the opportunity to have a one-on-one relationship with the big man, who many don’t realize spends most of his time in Florida working as a mild-mannered columnist for a great metropolitan newspaper.
I met Santa when his alter ego was the late Ed Adrian. Ed claimed to be the only Jewish Santa around, and he was remarkable, considering he continued the role after having a heart transplant. One year he asked me if I might try it out, and since the suit fit perfectly it has been mine ever since.
Today will be one of those days those involved will not forget. The Kiwanians work on this project for months, matching gifts and clothing to the children. The children not only get a few hours off from school, but for many of them this is the closest to a holiday celebration they are going to get.
As for ol’ Santa, sit down next to me and let me tell you about it. I would say sit down on my lap, but after a couple of hundred children have already done that, along with pulling at whiskers while the big guy sweats bullets inside a rental suit, Santa can’t handle any more lap sitting.
But if today is like the last dozen years, and after Santa has heard the stories and wishes of these mostly 10- and 11-year-olds, he will walk out into the Florida sun a few hours later pretty much a wreck, not so much from the physical part as the stories.
The children are mostly perfect, still holding on to enough innocence and maybe just a touch of not taking any chances on losing out on presents, to tell Santa that yes, they’ve been pretty good helping out around the house and they would like an X-Box or skateboard or Barbie doll.
For the most part, the spirits are high as Santa listens closely to their desires and reminds them to do more to help out Mom and Dad, but there is more.
There is always more. There’s the little kid who wants his daddy to come home or the girl who wants her own room so she won’t have to hear the fighting.
These are kids who may not always open their present from the Kiwanians but take it home because it is the only gift they are going to get on Christmas morning.
Most of the children are shy and whisper their wishes in giggles and stares. Ol’ Santa can handle that.
But it is those few he remembers most and wonders about their lives.
It’s actually a good time for Santas everywhere to look around a little at the children and the families who could use a little boost, even if it is an anonymous one or a buck in a red kettle somewhere.
It’s all up to you, of course, but remember ol’ Santa is watching.