On the cover North Coast Journal


December 15, 2005

Humboldt Holidays heading

Confessions of Santa Claus | Merry winter solstice!

Confessions of Santa Claus

by ME (Santa Claus)

About 4 years old, Betty peeks shyly from behind her mother's leg and hangs tightly to mom's slacks. Still showing a bit of doubt in her eyes, Betty suddenly leaves the leg and runs toward me. Diving into my arms, she gives me a big hug and smile. Once again a Christmas visit with Santa is off to a fine start.

Of course, not all visits are this easy. There are always extra bashful youngsters who view my long white hair and beard with worrisome eyes. There are always a few who want to pull my beard or spout cynical words about the old man in red. However, all in all, my experiences as Santa Claus (St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle) have been absolutely wonderful. My being a grandfather of 12 lovely grandchildren helps immensely. I really believe that the kids sense that I am a grandpa, and trust me accordingly.

I do have one big handicap; I have always been a little on the slim side. I am 6 feet 2 inches tall, and have weighed 205 pounds for many years. I have had to be well padded, and thus my Santa Claus role is truly a sweaty job.

My choicest experiences for the last 18 years have been bringing happiness to children. They just love talking about Christmas. Usually, I don't promise to bring them their requested gift. I say, "I'll certainly try," or something like that so they won't be completely disappointed if Christmas morning's gifts aren't complete. However, if Mom is nodding her head at a request, I'll say, "By golly, I think I can manage that!"

The "want" lists of youngsters vary from year to year, depending on the hot item for that season. Many stick to basic stuff, like Ashley's request for, among other things, a "toy deer, bubble-gum shop, glitterator, make-up set, and a real kitten."

"You'll have to talk to daddy or mommy about that kitten (or any live animal)," I tell kids with similar requests. "The kitty might freeze up there in my sleigh." (I am able to say "yes" once in awhile. For instance, one mother nodded "yes" that her son would get snakes for Christmas.)

I liked the planning in a note from Beth. "I want CD's, a new scooter, a new basketball," she wrote, "and my printer to be fixed so I can write you a better letter next year."

Probably my most expensive request came from a young lad, who listed 18 items. Most of them were remote control and/or mechanical toys, plus computers and games. I checked the prices with a local merchant, and found that the BIG list would have cost more than $800. I was so busy that Christmas Eve that I can't remember whether or not I left him everything he wanted.

Most children, of course, ask for personal stuff. I do enjoy it when sincere youngsters think of Dad, Mom, or other family member. It genuinely touches me when I hear, "I want Mother to get better,'" or "Bring something good for Sissie." That kind of reply happens often enough that it keeps me coming back each year.

A special friend is Randall, who stopped for a visit several years ago. He's blind, but remembers well. When I see him around town, I'll surprise him with a "Hi, Randall," and he will immediately reply, "Santa!"

Probably my greatest fans are the folks from the Humboldt Community Access and Resource Center (HCAR). They love Santa Claus and, on their regular trips to the mall, usually stop by for a chat or a candy cane. Whenever I can, I'll step outside my roped area and give each person a hug. (I call their counselors "Angels," and they are.) One of my treasured photographs shows me surrounded by a half dozen of my special fans and friends.

Over the years, I have kept a record of my "records" in my role. The oldest persons who have sat on my lap are a 101-year-old man during my visits to Seaview Healthcare out Pine Hill way in Eureka. The youngest was a baby, only 6 hours old claimed the mother. "This is my third child, and the easiest delivery I've had," she said. Wow! My Elves quickly moved the duo to the front of the camera line.

For several years, my record for the heaviest person sitting on my lap was 275 pounds. That record was broken in 2004 when a Humboldt State footballer, claiming to weigh 382 pounds, rumbled in. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, I cheated a little and sneaked most of him onto the arm of my chair as his picture was taken.

I've had angelic triplets stop by for a family shot, and even had four generations in one photograph. As you can imagine, great-grandmother was a very young-looking woman.

Early on, I became aware of the many unusual names of children in Redwood Country, and started to have my camera Elves keep track. In an August 2005 newspaper article, researchers reported that the 10 most popular boys' names in the United States are: Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew, Andrew, Joseph, Ethan, Daniel, Christopher and Anthony. Among our unusual local names are: Chaske (Indian for "first-born son"), Jymme, Shant, Tahrius and Yunven.

The researchers say our nation's favorite feminine names are old standards: Emily, Emma, Madison, Hannah, Olivia, Abigail, Alexis, Ashley, Elizabeth and Samantha. Some different local names are: Allilia, Fion (Gaelic for "fair one"), Mateek, Tambra and Tirza.

In my away-from-the-Mall appearances, I've had some unusual adventures. I've visited schools, hospitals, senior living centers, local businesses, day care homes and family residences.

At Redwood Hospital in Fortuna, Mrs. Claus and I were chatting with patients and leaving candy. As we entered one room, a lady from a room across the hall saw us and yelled, "Don't come in here you #@**&#! Don't give me any of that Christmas $%#@))!"

Our guide said, "She's in great pain from surgery, and no one has visited from her family all week. She's all alone and mad at the world." Going back to her room, I tiptoed in, left a couple of candy canes on her bed, threw her a kiss and waved good-bye as I left. She was so surprised that she didn't say a word. The nurse winked at me as we left.

We showed up at a recognition luncheon for St. Joseph Hospital volunteers. After the meal, the staff was cleaning up. Seeing Sister Peggy working so hard, I told her, "Sister Peggy, you're about the only person here today who hasn't given me your Christmas request."

Playing the part, she smiled, took my extended hand and sat on my knee. "And what would you like for Christmas?" I asked. (And what do you think a nun would say? You're right.)

She smiled again and replied, "Happiness and world peace!"

Adventures like these are a bonus to what is already an interesting and wonderful job. No wonder that I keep giving the same reply when asked how long I intend to be Santa Claus. "Well, at least next year -- and then we'll see."

Merry Christmas to you all!


Merry winter solstice!


I GET SAD WHEN OTHER PEOPLE think that when we celebrate winter solstice we're climbing on our broom sticks and worshipping the devil," said practicing Pagan and KMUD-FM talk show host Sunshine Tresidder, in a phone call from her home in Briceland last week.

The Winter Solstice marks the shortest and darkest day of the year. It's the beginning of winter, and for Pagans it's a time to welcome days with more sunlight. For the past 10 years, area Pagans, those polytheistic nature worshippers on the fringe of a largely Christian Humboldt County, have celebrated the holiday at Beginnings Octagon, a community center in Briceland, typically drawing a crowd of 100 to 200 people. Tresidder explained what the Winter Solstice is all about and what SoHum Pagans do to mark the occasion. By the way, they don't believe in Satan.

"For us, we are honoring the wheel of the year," she said. "We come together regularly to honor all the points of the circle of the seasons. What it is for us, the Sun King, whose Celtic name is Lugh, is gestating in the womb of the Great Mother, and on that longest, darkest night she is in labor. And when the sun rises she has given birth to her son, the sun -- she's giving light to her children. We celebrate the return of the light and that will grow and grow and grow until Summer Solstice, when he reaches his zenith and begins to wane. So we are honoring the returning of the light in the midst of the darkest night. It is a time of renewal, it is a time of hope, it is a time of honoring the illumination that comes from the darkness. It is also a time of honoring the crone, the ancient one who guides us though this darkest night, and a time of honoring our inner wisdom, and taking the intention of going deep within, into our darker shadowy selves, and finding the jewels, which is the light.

"Does that make sense?" she asked with a chuckle.

The gestating part may have lost some of us, but celebrating the seasons and feeling hopeful at the start of a new year makes sense. Winter Solstice is also a time to unburden one's Pagan self from any emotional baggage that's accumulated over the year.

"This darkest night is a really great time of letting go," Tresidder said. "So part of the journey is to find what we need to do in order to enter this new year of light. So what we're doing in our ceremony is we let go of what no longer serves us on our journey. We have everybody write down what no longer serves them and then every piece of paper is folded up and put into a basket. Then we do this invocation that goes:

Goddess of the darkest night, take thy sorrows all to flight,
Burn them in thy sacred fire and replace them with our heart's desire.

"We chant that together three times and then we open up the fire in our glorious big woodstove that can handle all of this [laughs] and then we throw it in, into the fire to be transformed. And then we take a moment to plant the seed of intention that we want to give birth to."

Those seeds are different for everyone. Tresidder's seem practical enough.

"As a single mother, I fear financial matters, I fear not having enough, so I'm planting that seed of embracing the abundance that is all around me."

And that's an interesting wish -- an ironic one, perhaps, in light of the culture war brewing this season, with some Christians boycotting retailers like Target for removing the word "Christmas" from promotional flyers. Despite their strong religious sentiments, the boycotters, led by certain right-wing pundits, still seem unwilling to separate the story of Christ's birth from the unbridled mass consumption that Christmas has come to represent in the United States.

But rather than exploring the differences between Christian and Pagan holidays, Tresidder marked their similarities.

"Winter Solstice is ancient, way before the birth of Christ. It celebrated the return of the Sun King, who was son of the Great Mother. And [the Sun King] dies, he dies every year. As he does that his spirit of light is in the food that we eat, that keeps [us] going through the winter until he is reborn again. It is so interesting how the Son of God is supposedly born at this time [of year] and then dies, and we replay it over and over again; we replay his birth and replay his death. Same thing with the Spring Equinox and Easter: The time of the Spring Equinox was called Eostre, and there's a Germanic maiden goddess of spring and believe it or not she has magical hair that lays eggs. This is pre-Christianity, and lo and behold, now we have Easter, which is all about rebirth, and there are eggs and bunnies."

Other Pagan symbols have crossed over to the Christmas holiday, like mistletoe, burning Yule logs and making wreaths of evergreen, which for Pagans symbolizes eternal life through the dead of winter.

On the flip side, Christmas icons, like Santa Claus, haven't co-mingled with Pagan celebrations.

"Santa doesn't come down our stovepipe," Tresidder said. "I don't object to him, he just doesn't really come to our house." Her kids, 14 and 11, never took pictures on Santa's lap either.

But again, from her way of thinking the holidays aren't so much a matter of us against them.

"I have to say I don't know one single Pagan who is adverse to the Christian holiday, because we see it all as one. I really don't know any Pagans who have judgments on Christians and their holidays, or the Jewish tradition of Hanukkah. Again, look at Hanukkah -- it's all about the returning of the light. It's really all the same celebration."

The Winter Solstice celebration begins at 6 p.m., Dec. 20 at Beginnings Octagon in Briceland. A donation of $5-$10 is appreciated. Bring a candle and a candleholder.



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