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Monday, December 10, 2018

Candy Canes All Around!

Many moons ago, I “represented” Santa in our small community in California. The job was as you would expect—be large, welcome the little ones, listen to their requests, try to encourage the fearful, and be sure to hand out candy canes. One of the more apprehensive toddlers to sit on my lap was my own son. I’m grateful he chose not to yank on my beard.

Back then, the visit with Santa did not include an expensive photography package. You could even take your own pictures with the now-outdated Kodak camera. Smart phones make these photo ops simpler these days, but the mall Santas won’t allow you to do that. You have to buy THEIR photos. Makes you wonder if The Grinch is underneath that red outfit.

These are tough days for mall Santas. That’s because they are even tougher days for malls. Major name retailers are disappearing and as they go, the customers go, too.

The second factor for the diminishing mall Santa is online shopping. There is a stunning increase this year over last in the amount spent online over the Thanksgiving shopping weekend. Sorry, Santa.

So what’s a skilled Mr. Claus to do? Innovate! Last year, the Chicago Tribune shared, “Santas are finding ways to adapt, often trading in one steady mall gig for a series of hourly appearances. Some are taking up residence at stores like Bass Pro Shop and American Girl or booking more private parties. Others are finding work at outdoor shopping centers, which come with the added challenge of inclement weather.” (link below)

And then there’s Ed Taylor. This creative Los Angeles-based Santa finds himself increasingly going where the children are. Ed makes video calls to kids' iPhones and iPads. He’s been doing this for 15 years. He also runs an online school for aspiring Santas.

As the Tribune reported, “Taylor has outfitted his home office to look like Santa's workshop. He uses a web cam stationed nearby to talk with his young clients, some of whom like to give him tours of their homes or show him their Christmas trees.” I love this creativity.

Even the US Postal Service has recognized that Santa needs to be reachable on line. Postal rates are now 50 cents for a first class stamp. Why would a kid pay that when he can connect through the USPS for free?

This year, seven cities are participating in a digital version of Operation Santa. For 106 years, a gaggle of folks have offered to write response letters to those who reached out to Santa via mail during the holidays. The Christmas Good Samaritans are found in New York City; San Diego; Phoenix; Washington, D.C.; Indianapolis; Austin, Texas; and Pittsburgh.

But it isn’t just letters being answered. Some of Santa’s pen pals receive gifts from the responders. They may choose to adopt letter requests as an individual or as a team.

This year, the San Diego contingency is making a special effort to help those in northern California displaced by the tragic (Camp) fire. The letters that come from this part of the state are marked by a special heart on the envelope. Those letter adopters who choose to send gifts to northern California must pay the required Priority Mail postage.

There are disputes over whether we should perpetuate a fictional tale about this Christmas character with our children. My take is that connecting with Santa provides kids with a hope that a good-hearted servant cares about them. And wants to hear what they desire.

Jesus of Nazareth loved children. He welcomed them. And He told the adults: “I promise you this. If you don't change and become like a child, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3, CEV)

The Heavenly Father is the giver of all good gifts. We should ask Him for more of those good gifts. He’s willing to listen. To share. To give us hope. And that’s why the real St. Nick put his faith in Jesus.

I’ll take that candy cane now.

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