21 Dec 2012

4 Days to Christmas

"And what would you like for Christmas, little girl?"

"Um... I really want a nice little doll with pretty hair and a pretty dres— wait I already have those! Er...  I guess I want a huge floating castle in the sky where there are lots of colourful clouds around that I can jump on and there are princesses and princes and a king and queen that live inside the castle, and I can ride with them on magical unicorns that leave behind pretty shiny rainbows beneath their feet, and I can just sing and dance and play with them forever and ever! Yeah!"

"Wow, little missy! That sounds like quite a tall order... I'll see what I can do for you! Ho ho ho!"

"Thank you Santa!"

"Okay that's all! That was the last one! No more queueing until tomorrow! Santa needs a break!"

That announcement was the sound of kids' expectations being let down, but to "Santa" it was music to his ears. The man in the red costume and the fake beard finally heaved a sigh of relief as he sunk into the velvet throne he was stuck on for the past hour. Finally he could do what we wanted to do... which frankly he hadn't decided yet, but he was sure it would have to be done far away from children for a while.

He gave a quick wave and smile to the slightly disappointed children who were watching from the sides, and disappeared into the closet backstage. The suit and beard were itching like crazy, and he was so desperate to take them off!

One of "Santa's helper elves" came in just as "Santa" was changing back into his normal clothes.

"Wow, today was especially busy! You're a real trooper, man."

"It's my job. Somebody has to keep their hopes and dreams alive."

"You're right, Frank. So I'll see you tomorrow, same time?"

"You know it."

A few minutes later, Frank emerged out from the back, finally free to move however he wanted. He swore he nearly fused into that velvet seat just now, with each child that sat on his lap squeezing him further into the felt. Well at least now his butt had fresh air. And he made a slightly above decent amount of money from it.

Gosh, I'm really famished. I heard there was a newly opened fast food restaurant somewhere...

Great, turns out a lot of people knew about this outlet too. The place was packed! But there wasn't any other F&B place nearby, so he'd have to stick with the queue.

Now where could he sit? Many of the tables were already occupied. If only some kind soul were willing to let this poor man have a decent place to eat his late lunch...

"Excuse me, sir! This seat's free if you want it."

He turned around and saw a young white-haired man with his half-eaten burger, fries and drink. This guy didn't seem intimidating despite his unusual look, so Frank promptly sat down before it could be snatched up.

"Thank you, kind man! Tell me, is the food here good?"

"Oh, surprisingly it's not bad! I usually don't have an appetite for fast food, but I needed to fill my stomach quickly, and I chanced upon this place. It's certainly a strong rival against those competitors with their greasy stale junk!"

"Well then, I'll take your word for it! By the way did you dye your hair? Are you working as a mall Santa somewhere else?"

The man fiddled with his snowy hair. "Actually no, this is my natural hair colour. A lot of people did say I could work as one, but knowing the long hours and the kids you have to deal with, I'll pass!"

Frank let out a half-laugh. "At least you know what you would have gotten into. I certainly didn't! I foolishly thought it was easy, just walk around and greet people, and sometimes seat in the big chair, and let little children seat on your lap while they rattle off their wishes. Oh boy, it was such a test of my endurance!"

The man smiled as he bit into his burger. "Well at least you know you're doing something good. You're helping to keep the children's hopes and dreams alive."

Frank paused midway of lifting his sub into his mouth.

"You know, someone told me the exact same thing just now. But I'm not so sure if I really am doing something good..."

"...you don't think you're doing people a favour by playing as Santa?"

"Well... I thought so at first. I mean, I certainly was happy when I, as a young boy, got to meet Santa and tell him what I wanted. And true enough, I did get the presents I asked for. But later on, the novelty just faded away because I felt too old for this. I didn't believe that a big jolly guy would be willing and able to actually grant the wishes of people all over the world. When I learnt more scientific concepts in school, it just became more and more improbable that Santa could do all those miracles..."

Frank quickly took a bite out of his sub. Hmm, delicious! But he had a point to make:

"...and when I grew into more of an adult, I became more aware of how companies like to use this figure of Santa to market themselves. 'If you were good this year, you just might receive this XXX product!' Or 'Even naughty people deserve to have YYY' or 'Make sure to ask Santa for a ZZZ this Christmas!' Santa has just become a tool to get the public to buy things. He's no longer a symbol of joy and giving, but a mascot for commercialism!"

Whew. All that ranting was a bit exhausting! Frank nibbled on a french fry, seeing how his listener would react.

The white-haired man calmly finished off his burger, washed it down with a bit of his drink, then began:

"Sure, Santa's being used everywhere in commercials of many products. That's just as natural as getting other celebrities or past customers to help advertise. But Santa is still a role model of altruistic giving, and a reminder of the rewards that good behaviour can bring. There are people who say that Santa's image has been forever tainted by greedy corporations. However, the trend can be reversed."

He pointed at Frank, who was halfway into his sub.

"People like you can make some of the right changes to improve Santa's image. When you're in that costume, you can take the initiative to spread the right values to the children who would readily listen to you. Teach them values like kindness and integrity. You're not just a guy in a costume; you can be an ambassador for the 'pure' Santa that we need."

That was certainly refreshing.

"I... uh... well. You make a really good point. I shouldn't treat my job as some troublesome way to earn a living. Instead I should take the chance to educate the young generation. I shouldn't be just a person who fills up family photographs, but also a teacher!"

"That's good, at least you see the bigger meaning in your job now."

With a satisfied grin, Frank patted his slightly swollen belly.

"Wow, that meal was good! And thanks for fixing my perspective with that discussion! I feel like I should thank you for the conversation and the free seat..."

That's when the white-haired man suddenly seemed to light up.

"Actually, I thought of inviting you to a Christmas night party at my place! Care to join?"

"??? Okay, that sounds a little too much. We've only just met!"

The white-haired fellow smiled, and took out a slightly creased piece of paper.

"We have just met, but I find you a really honest and pleasant person already. Think of it as a nice break after all those hours of endurance in a fixed sitting position! And I'm sure the other guests would like to hear some stories from your experience at work."

Frank hesitated a little. He was planning to just check into a cheap resort hotel and have a vacation, but... it's been some time since he had a Christmas party too.

"Oh what the heck. I'm sure it'll be fun and enjoyable."

"That's great! My name and address are written on here." And he quickly pressed it into Frank's palm.

"Alright, thanks! ...hmm, I think I can find your house easily. So you're Dominic?"

"That's right. It was a pleasure meeting you, Frank! I've really got urgent matters now, so see you!"

Dominic grabbed his drink and dashed off into the streets, blending into the crowd.

Frank was still munching on the remaining fries.

He knew that tomorrow, he will wear the itchy costume again, this time with a new mission to accomplish.