"Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, lend your ear this way,
Don't you tell a single soul what I'm going to say..."
Twelve years ago, when I returned to Canada after living in Greece for five years, I was offered a job at an all-Chinese Daycare Centre in Chinatown. I was hired as an English teacher to encourage my little group of 4 year olds to speak English. There were two other E.S.L teachers in the Centre and two English speaking pre-school teachers as well. All the staff and children there spoke either Mandarin or Cantonese and it was discovered that when children graduated into Kindergarten at the local school, a great many of them were unable to speak any English, because they only spoke Chinese at home.
It was an interesting job, a learning experience for me too, because in no time I was recognizing Chinese words and building up my Cantonese vocabulary. The Daycare was one of the largest centre's I've worked at, a state-of-the-art building, built with donations from the Chinese community who attended the local Chinese Catholic Church. The Centre was operated by the Catholic Church and the director was a formidable little nun, Sister Tang. The daycare followed the 'Hong-Kong system' which meant it was more structured than I was used to, and teachers were always encouraged to 'be prepared'. Everything was very organized and there was a lot of parent interest. So whenever there was a special event, such as a parent-teacher night, all the extended families would attend.
It was an open-area daycare, the main area of the ground floor was a gym. This would be full of children and adults for the special events. In all there were over fifty children in the centre. So when Christmas approached there were plans for a big party. There was talk of Santa Claus attending to hand out gifts to the children. I wondered if they'd hire someone. It would seem odd to have a "Chinese Santa" but not impossible. I tried to guess which one of the fathers would volunteer for the job.
Then, a couple of days before the big party, they broke to news to me. I WAS THE DESIGNATED SANTA. Me? I couldn't believe it.
"Yes," they said, "Because you're the fattest one."
At first I felt insulted. Yes, I was 'fatter' than any of the tiny Asian women on the staff. But back then I was also a lot thinner than I am today, and that certainly wasn't 'obese'. It kind of hurt my feelings to think that they thought I was 'fat enough' to play Santa. Besides, how could a blonde haired WOMAN be Santa Claus. It was a ridiculous idea!
Being a good sport, I finally agreed. The day of the party came, and Sister Tang produced a Santa suit for me to wear. I stuffed in pillows to make myself fat enough, put on the suit, the fake beard, tucked my hair up under the hat, and went out to face the room full of kiddies and their parents and siblings.
I was SURE that someone would immediately recognize me. On the contrary, each one of the children came up when their name was called, and got their presents. I made my voice as gruff as I could.
"Ho!Ho! How are you today? Have you been a good little girl/boy?"
The amazing thing was that not one child recognized me, nor did they seem to know that "Santa" was really a woman!
This was one of the funniest experiences of my life. What had at first been a kind of embarassing 'put down' turned into a lot of fun. Now I know what it's like being Santa Claus, how those guys behind the fake beards and red suits feel when the little kids come up to sit on their knees and confide in them. I've never regretted accepting the challenge. If I were a man (a 'fat' man) I'd apply for a Santa job every time Christmas came around.
"Santa looked like daddy,
Or daddy looked like him.
It's not the way I had him pictured.
Santa was much too thin.
He didn't come down the chimney,
So momma must have let him in.
Santa looked a lot like daddy
Or daddy looked a lot like him."