Sometimes it's hard to hear angelic voices through a mop of white synthetic curls. Fortunately for this Santa, you can count on kids (and their teachers) to think of everything.
Not only did the preschoolers promise to set out a platter of cookies and a glass of milk for me on Christmas Eve, but I was presented with a Dear Santa wish list.
Surprisingly, the allure of some toys from long ago endures. Many of the girls still hope for a Barbie, and the boys want G.I. Joe, Batman and Hot Wheels. But I don't know anything about "baby fairy dolls" -- other than they're popular with young girls this season.
This was my fourth year as Santa for a morning at Kaweah Kids Center in Visalia, where my wife Karen works. She pulled the "I'd really appreciate it" card the first time, but now I look forward to it.
If the sights and sounds of 4-year-olds yelling "Santa Claus" when you enter the room don't put you in the Christmas spirit, then little else will. Their enthusiasm is infectious and a reminder of how exciting the holiday was when I was a kid.
Less exciting is donning Santa's suit. Like me, it's getting long in the tooth. The pants are a bit short and baggy in the knees. But the big challenge is the beard, which is supposed to stay in place by virtue of elastic straps wrapped around the ears.
I never thought about it until becoming a Santa, but I have tiny ear lobes -- at least in relationship to my fat head -- so I secure the beard before visiting every room, lest I be exposed as "not the real Santa."
Experience helps. For example, when kids ask me the names of my reindeer, I start with "Rudolph," which always gets their attention and they respond by shouting his name.
I suppose they identify with him, the underdog who becomes a hero. In fact, if preschoolers were allowed to vote, Rudolph Giuliani would be president.
Another step on the road to being a real Santa is to have a big bag of candy canes. Asking "Who wants one?" is better than bringing campaign contributions to a political convention.
Everyone wants a candy cane, even the shy tykes who ran in the opposite direction on your first "Ho, Ho, Ho." If a candy cane doesn't break the ice, the offer of a high-five will -- almost every time.
The magic of Christmas isn't the mere anticipation of presents. Or getting a reward for being good. It's the joy of having something to believe in.
And right now, in these tough and tenuous times, you might want to stop and reflect this Christmas about what you truly believe in.