Being Santa

This blog post carries a warning. Its content is unsuitable for anyone under the age of about 10.

My first ever paid employment was in Santa’s grotto. I was an elf. It was at the now defunct Co-op on George Hudson Street, York. Whilst I am proud that we were voted the third best grotto in the north of England that year, I can’t claim too much responsibility – as an elf, I had to be neither seen nor heard.  My role was to listen to the conversations that Santa was having with each child and then decide what gift to send down the chute to Janet aged 6, Stephen aged 4, etc. When faced with problems such as Sam or Jo(e) aged 2, a peek at the colour of clothing was also required – and then I hoped for shades of blue or pink as opposed to yellow …

The job lasted about 2 months. In the last week of December, visitor numbers plummeted. Santa was old news – for the moment – and we elves had to move on.

But having caught the bug, it stayed with me. About 15 years later, I saw a solitary Santa outfit in a Homebase January sale – for £2.50. Seeing it took me back to my time in the grotto. I briefly reminisced about the fun that was had, I smiled to myself, and quickly decided that I was ready to move up from elf to Santa, and so rescued the lonely and forlorn outfit. There was also no doubt in my mind that the amount of fun I could have with it would be an ample return on investment for me. And I was so right!

That was many years ago. I now have additional accessories – such as a bag for presents – and a back-up outfit in case I get any problems with the No 1 suit.

I have been Santa for individuals, and I have been Santa for groups of over a hundred. I never cease to be amazed by the reactions that I (or, probably more accurately, Santa) generates. It works on all ages, with the best reactions generally being from the relatively young and the relatively old – most people aged between about 13 and 33 seem to go through a ‘serious phase’ that precludes them from having any Santa related fun.

It’s not all fun though – Santa has to have his wits about him. Last year an eight year old girl asked Santa if he had to speak lots of different languages. Santa replied that of course he did. “Speak to me in Latin, Santa”, she retorted. Santa explained that he didn’t need to speak that language as nobody else did now, and quickly moved on to other less challenging customers.

And once Santa has visited, the magic can continue. A few years ago, Santa was asked to give an unexpected surprise to Lou. Whilst the encounter took place on a pavement next to a busy road in north west England, Lou loved it. What made this encounter different was that about a year later Lou came on one of my courses – and up to that point she only knew me as Santa!

Lou is now my Chief Elf, undertaking what she believes are genuine Elf qualifications (if she reads this, perhaps the magic will not continue much longer!), and during each December we have a number of Elf / Santa related email exchanges.

Santa’s most recent gig was with some forty-something and fifty-something year old training consultant colleagues. As expected, they were quickly exercising their child ego-states and had regressed to single digit ages – particularly when they received selection boxes from Santa.  I sadly missed the visit of Santa – I had to make a 15 minute phone call – but they told me all about it when I returned.

As the conversation returned to more mature exchanges, we reflected on how Santa can change people’s moods so quickly. We talked about the old Venetian Masquerade Balls where one of the primary reasons for the masks was so that everyone felt they could relax and say what they wanted to say. As we are all into training and improving performance, we then started discussing the benefits of being able to achieve such anonymity and freedom of expression in a classroom environment. We also discussed how Santa was (and is) able to bring about such a ‘state change’ in people and that this would also be a powerful tool in many situations if it was possible to replicate it. Is it possible?

It certainly highlights the benefits of using innovative methodologies and using the affective domain in learning situations.  As the saying goes, “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

And that is as true at Christmas as it is in the classroom environment all year around.

A very Happy Christmas Lou, Peter, Judith, Adrian, Susan – even the 8 year old girl – and everyone else who reads Paul’s blog! Must dash – I’ve got a busy day ahead. Ho, ho, ho! …

Santa

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