I was a teenager in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It was a time of bell bottom jeans, peace signs, and long hair for guys. However, my dad did not care about “all the other guys” wearing their hair long. Since he was cutting my hair for free, I would wear it the way he wanted. So I sported a crew cut until I finally got a part-time job after school and could pay for my own haircuts. Once I was paying for my own haircuts, I could let my hair grow a little longer but I still had to keep it short because I had become a volunteer fireman and to get a good seal on the masks we wore back then, you had to have shorter hair. In 1973, after graduation from high school, I joined the Marine Corps and shortly after arriving at Parris Island, they shaved my head. By the time I retired from the Marine Corps in 1993, long hair was no longer in vogue for men. I had missed out on this fashion trend. So, I decided that if I could not have long hair, I would at least sport a beard.
As I got older, the red hair on my head and in my beard slowly became whiter and whiter. Sadly, I just could not get over the fact that I never was able to see what it was like to have long hair. Finally, I made a decision. Early in 2009, I decided to let my hair grow until I could donate it to Locks of Love. My wife hated the idea, my congregation was not overjoyed, and the County in which I also worked thought I had lost my mind. As a rebellious “child of the ’60s, I could not have been happier.
That was when I noticed the children waiting in line looking at me and then looking at “Santa” with this look of bewilderment.
By the time Christmas rolled around, my hair was already down to my shoulders. I was out at the mall shopping for my wife’s Christmas presents when I first noticed the children. As I walked from store to store looking for the perfect gifts, children keep pointing to me and tugging their parent’s arm. When I came to the place where children were waiting in line to talk to Santa, I stopped to check my shopping list. That was when I noticed the children waiting in line looking at me and then looking at “Santa” with this look of bewilderment. When I got home, I took a long look in the mirror and there was no doubt about it. I looked like Santa.
As I stood there trying to figure out what I thought about my mistaken identity, I started to think about what Santa means to people. I came to realize that maybe, just maybe, being Santa was not all bad because of what we learn from his character.
- Hope. Santa embodies hope. No matter how difficult your year has been, at the end of each year, we have one day where we can sit back and reflect on the future with a sense of hope.
- Unselfishness. Santa gives and never asks for anything in return. We quickly learn as we get older that giving to others brings more rewards than receiving ever will.
- Gratitude. Growing up, we did not have a lot. So, seeing what Santa brought us on Christmas morning filled us with a special kind of gratitude. There would always be new underwear, socks, pants, and a shirt or two. But one of the gifts would be a new toy. Something we had not anticipated – something that would bring us hours of entertainment. And because we received one toy, we were so grateful.
- Joy. Christmas morning was filled with excitement, laughter, and pure joy because on Christmas Eve, Santa was able to visit all the good boys and girls and let them know that being good brought its own rewards.
- Love. Santa is the embodiment of unselfish love. We all know that if toys only went to good boys and girls, all of us would have been getting a lump of coal under the tree. But somehow, some way, Santa found just enough good in each of us to ensure we were rewarded on Christmas morning. Such love is rare and when you experience this kind of love, you are changed forever.
The following year, my hair even longer, Hazel and I were at a reunion of the Aviation Logistics Marines in Myrtle Beach, South Caroline. We had decided to go for a walk and rang for the elevator to go to the lobby and out the front door of the hotel. When we walked into the elevator, a young lady and her little blond hair girl were already in the elevator. It was obvious that they were going to the beach because the little girl was in her swimsuit. I smiled at the little girl and started our conversation.
“So, are you going to the beach?”
“Yeah,” she replied in a shy voice as she moved closer to her mom.
“Why, I bet you will have a wonderful time. It looks like such a pretty day out there.” We were now on the first floor and I held the door back so everyone could get out of the elevator. “Have a wonderful day on the beach.”
The little girl’s mom looked down at her little girl and said, “Say goodbye to the nice man.”
The little girl looked at me and said, “Goodbye, Santa.”
I knelt so that I was eye to eye and said with a smile, “You have been a very good girl this year. So, I will see you on Christmas Eve when I deliver your toys. So, continue to be a good girl and listen to your mom, okay?” As she nodded her head she smiled the biggest smile and her eyes just twinkled. Her mom softly said, “Thank you” as I stood up. I waved to her until they went around the corner and I could not help but think that being mistaken for Santa really is a good thing.
This holiday season, find ways to give those less fortunate than you some hope – be unselfish in your sharing of the blessings God has given you – show gratitude for the little things in life that cost nothing but turn out to be priceless – and let joy fill your heart as your experience the greatest gift of all – love for one another.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!