Comedian by day, Santa by night – Shane Rhyne has celebrated this holiday season sharing favorite moments playing Santa various times throughout his life. Just in case you needed a warm holiday story, here’s Shane with his #1 Pick.
My Favorite Santa Moments #1 – Volunteer Landing, Riverlights Boat Parade, circa 2000.
First, there are some truths about playing Santa that need to be acknowledged.
One, as far as I’m concerned, once you don the gay apparel of the big red suit you have to remain in character the whole time. You never know when a little one might see you and you must remember that you carry the burden of keeping the Christmas magic alive. You must not be the Santa that ends the mystical belief. It’s one of the reasons that walking anywhere downtown at a holiday event became a chore. I wouldn’t take off the beard and hat as I made my way from an event to my car, because I didn’t want to risk a kid seeing me half out of my Santa suit and piece together the puzzle. This also meant that I was obligated to stop and say hello to any child who called out my name. Santa can’t simply ignore a kid and walk away. Thus, a simple walk from Market Square to my car in the parking garage might take 30 minutes or more. But, it’s part of the job. It’s the closest I’ll ever be to becoming a rock star, so I accept that trade off.
Second, the suit is hot. Like tropical hot. My internal thermostat runs high anyway, but add the layers of padding, fur, wig, beard and hat and it can get down right toasty. I usually joked that I could lose 10 pounds a night playing Santa. As kids sat on my lap with their teeth chattering from the cold, I was melting inside and trying to keep my glasses from steaming over.
Usually, that is. One year on Knoxville’s waterfront it was brutally cold and windy. Even I was freezing. Yet, there were children waiting to sit in my lap and so we did. The line moved fast as parents, kids and Santa alike did their best to keep things moving so no one froze to death. When the line hit its designated cutoff time, there were no stragglers hoping to extend the time a few minutes more. Even under my suit and fur, I felt each gust of wind like a blade between by ribs. It was time to go.
My friend Michele helped guide me to the elevator at Volunteer Landing to get me to the City County Building’s Parking Garage. It was good to be inside anything, even an elevator.
There was even a hot chocolate for me to drink. Stepping out of the elevator, I checked my surroundings to insure against observation by children’s eyes and tugged my beard out of the way for my first sip of something to drink all night. And, then, below me on the stairwell, I heard the sobbing above the noise of the wind.
There was also the sound of a sympathetic father. “It’s going to be okay, Nicholas,” he said. “We were too late to find Santa tonight, but we can see him at the mall later.”
He tried to sound confident, but an adult’s ears would also recognize a note of hidden panic in there. He may gave been kicking himself for not getting to the event in time. Perhaps this was his weekend with Nicholas and he was facing the prospect of an unintended broken promise casting a pall over the rest of the weekend, if not the holiday itself. Perhaps he was worried that getting to the mall would not be as easy or certain as he was trying to make it sound.
As Nicholas let out another wail and lamented his missed opportunity to see Santa, I realized that my friend and I, a floor above, could not be seen. They had no idea we were standing there. l listened to Nicholas’ father offer more consolation and looked wistfully at a hot chocolate I knew would be quite cold when I saw it again. I handed it back to Michele and said, “I’ve got work to do.”
And then, hoisting my bag of candy canes and pulling my beard back over my face, I started walking down the stairs to put myself on a collision course with an unsuspecting Nicholas and his dad.
“Ho! Ho! Ho!” I shouted. “Nicholas! Where are you?”
As I reached the landing of the stairwell, there stood a little red-headed boy of about 5 and his father. Each dumbstruck and wide-eyed.
Nicholas, in disbelief, rushed in for a hug. In truth, that’s always my favorite part, when the kids run to Santa like they’ve just seen a long-lost friend return to them.
Nicholas’ dad silently mouthed the words “Thank you” and watched as his son climbed into my lap after I sat myself on the stairs. And we had a wonderful, quiet conversation, Nicholas and I, about his Christmas wishes and how good he’d tried to be that year.
“Were you really looking for me, Santa?” he asked.
“Of course, Nicholas,” I replied. “After all, you and I share something very special.”
“Why, our name, of course,” I laughed. “I’m a Nicholas, too. We have to look out for each other.”
And we laughed and I reached into my bag to give him a candy cane.
Nicholas then ran to the railing to see one of the lighted Christmas boats returning to its dock. His dad leaned in and whispered, “I don’t know who you are, but you’ve made that kid’s year.”
“Actually,” I said, “he made mine.”
“And,” I continued, motioning towards my beard and hat, “you know exactly who I am.” And I gave him my est jolly old elf wink.
Nicholas and his dad said their goodbyes and walked away.
“Do you want me to see if I can find you another hot chocolate?” my friend asked.
“No,” I answered, watching the father and son turn the corner. “I’m not so cold anymore.”
Merry Christmas to you all. I hope you never pass up the chance to be Santa Claus when the opportunity presents itself. Thank you to Sue Clancy and Mickey Mallonee for letting me be Santa for so many years so I could have these memories today.