I tried like hell to hold back tears the first time I dressed up as Santa Claus to entertain kids at an income-restricted apartment community in Orlando.
A little girl told me, while sitting on my lap as I was dressed for the part, that all she wanted for Christmas were shoes for her little brother. A young boy said he just wanted for his mom to be happy while another boy asked to receive nothing at all.
Similar requests were made in between the typical interactions of kids asking Santa for toys and gadgets they’ll lose interest in by February.
It was the looks in the eyes of parents and grandparents that made my heart ache most as they soaked up whatever joy these kids were experiencing.
Despite the difference in ethnicity of many, I was all too familiar with these kids. My Christmas memories spent in single-parent households or clouded by domestic unrest flooded back with each kid that hopped on my lap.
If there’s one thing I know about the holiday season it’s that when there’s not enough money to pay the bills, Christmas can be a real inconvenience.
Such reminders were an unbearable byproduct of being involved in something such as this, that means so much to so many others.
I knew plenty of kids would awake on Christmas and not see one gift they asked for under their tree. So I did all I could to make every single person that crossed my path feel like the most important person in the world.
Pictures were taken and candy canes were handed out. I’d strike up as much conversation as I could with each kid, even the ones that were too shy to acknowledge me or who barely spoke English. For them I’d drop whatever Spanish word came to mind and reach my white gloves out, encouraging those guardians to join in for another snapshot.
I thought for sure I’d never want to take part in such a thing again, but it’s been several years since that day and I keep finding time to make it happen.
Sadly, only a few faces are familiar nowadays, but with each transient kid that crosses my path I hope I’ve provided some peace or happiness before the reality of another new year approaches to wipe away the magic.
(Last year I made my exit to Run-DMC before heading off to another property…)