Dan Rattiner's Stories

Be a Santa: Listen to What the Child Wants & Repeat to Parents

Everyone should don the costume and play Santa Claus at least once.

I think at least once in every adult person’s life, they should put on the suit and in a public location be Santa Claus. You can learn a great deal about the different habits and behaviors of loads of children between the ages of 2 and 7. And you thought you knew them all.

For the last six years, I have played the part of Santa Claus in the annual East Hampton Village parade. This year the parade was on December 7, and I went down Main Street atop my sleigh, waving to the crowd from the Presbyterian Church to the Hook Mill, where I flipped a switch turning on the lights lining the edges of the blades of that windmill.

The highlight of this, for me, anyway, was what came after. I sat on a throne in the center of the customer floor of the Eileen Fisher clothing store on Newtown Lane and had encounters with probably 40 children of this age, one right after the other.

Now, you may have a few kids in your life who are that age and think you know it all, but I can tell you the variety of reactions of these children encountering Santa was amazingly all over the lot.

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Invariably, the parents either carried over or walked behind these children to set them down before me to allow them to experience me first hand. There was always, initially, stunned amazement at seeing Santa Claus. Next came either fear and a retreat to grab their parent around the knees or happy acceptance followed by a willingness to continue the encounter.

The fear-and-retreat children were greeted with either an “oh well” acceptance by parents who’d say maybe another time and walk off, or step forward with the kids to help them try to get over the terror. If the fear and terror continued, though, I’m happy to say that nearly all parents took their kid off, although some created disasters and screaming by setting the kid on my lap anyway. Bad idea. Sometimes, and this was even worse, they’d look at me and, in front of their kid, apologize to me for having caused such trouble.

Between the terror kid and the enthusiastic kid, sometimes I’d get a kid who either overcame or never felt fear, looked to see that his parent wasn’t going away—parent was taking a picture—and then, in response to my asking what they wanted for Christmas, would get up on tiptoe and whisper in my ear. Then I’d repeat it, as if I didn’t hear, loudly so the parent could hear.

Some didn’t have any idea of what they wanted and were stunned to be asked, and still others came having memorized long lists of items they wanted.

As for those who wound up sitting on Santa’s lap, the percentage of kids who chose to do this has declined over the years, probably due to the advent of the increased awareness and protection of personal space our society has recently embraced. But I still get some.

Then, this year, there was this little girl, cute as a button and standing ramrod straight three feet in front of me. She looked me over curiously.

Dan Rattiner in the East Hampton Santa Parade
Dan Rattiner loves playing Santa, Photo: Donna Pradas

I asked her what her name was and she told me. I asked her how old she was and she said six. Then she became the one who asked the questions.

“Are you really Santa?”

“Yes, I am,” I said.

“You look fake.”

“I’m really him, really Santa.”

“You look like you’re wearing a disguise.”

“I’m not wearing a disguise. This is what I look like. Though sometimes I do wear a disguise to hide who I really am underneath, which is Santa.”

She considered that for a moment, then a great beaming smile appeared on her face, and with that, she leaped up into my lap, put her arms around me and gave me a long, loving hug.

I said, “Oh ho, there you are,” and hugged her back. Then she got down, told me proudly what she wanted, shook my hand and ran off.

I’ve been thinking about this since. Did an invasion of space occur here? I sure was surprised. At least at first. But more to the point, I lied to her. Or I think I lied. She’ll be told in about a year by somebody that there is no Santa Claus, and she will reply oh yes, there is, and I gave him a great big hug.

After that, I don’t know what will happen.

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