Wednesday - December 31, 2008
I have a new gig - playing Santa Claus at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu staff Christmas party. It’s really an old gig. More than a decade ago I had a long run as Santa at John and Pauline Matias’ annual Christmas party for what seemed like all the folks of Puerto Rican descent on Oahu. I mean all of them.
This second run is only two years old. It came about because we enlarged our staff in recent years. We’ve added a number of young people of child-rearing age, and the party swarms with cute little kids.
They ask me to play Santa because I meet all the requirements for the part: I am a bit over-weight, I am loud - as in Ho! Ho! Ho! loud - and I’m haole.
Now, truth be told, I like playing Santa. I’ll tell you why. I like little kids. I like talking to them. But kids - particularly shy local kids - don’t like overweight, loud, haole men. They find us - understandably, I suppose - frightening. They bury their heads in their mothers’ skirts at our approach. They sometimes cry - all of which makes an overweight, loud, haole man feel like an untouchable.
Put on that Santa outfit, however, and everything changes. Suddenly you become not an object to be feared but - “Santa! Santa!” - and the shy kid runs to you, hugs you around the leg, offers you a candy cane, crawls up into your lap and tells the overweight, loud, haole man what he wants for Christmas.
It’s enough to make an old guy like me believe in magic. It’s the magic possessed by Santa or by religions’ various deities or - ever so occasionally - the magic possessed by political figures.
One such has been visiting us this holiday season. For many, Barack Obama carries magic with him. At the moment, only six weeks since his victory over John McCain, he’s boasting a 75 percent approval rating in two major polls.
Other pols have known that magic. When John Kennedy ran for president in 1960, Norman Mailer wrote a fascinating essay on the Kennedy magic entitled Superman Comes to the Supermarket.
Franklin Roosevelt had it as well; so did Ronald Reagan.
How do you define it?
It’s hard to do.
Perhaps it’s best done by naming some politicians who didn’t have it: Richard Nixon, for example. Or Jimmy Carter. Or Walter Mondale. Or Al Gore.
Certainly Ben Cayetano and John Waihee and Linda Lingle didn’t - or don’t - have it.
I guess it’s real hard to distinguish magic locally; it’s that “familiarity breeds contempt” stuff.
Then again, maybe I grow romantic in my old age. Maybe that excitement in the child’s eyes has nothing to do with magic at all: It’s just the anticipation of a gift - a doll or an electronic game or who knows what they’re anticipating these days. A gift for being “nice” rather than “naughty” over the past year.
Maybe ... nah, probably.
But I like to think it’s magic - magic that may evaporate in the space of a few weeks or months, certainly years.
At last year’s West Oahu Christmas party, a young girl squealed at Santa’s arrival, ran to me, grabbed my hand, kissed my cheek through my fake white beard, and stood beside Santa’s chair through much of the gift-giving.
This year I recognized her immediately when her name was called and she came and sat on my knee. A year older, she was infinitely wiser. You could see it in her eyes, in her body language. She knew that there was only an over-weight, loud, haole man in that red suit, behind that fake white beard, under that fake white hair.
For the moment, our Christmas visitor from Illinois has the magic. Let’s hope he uses it wisely and makes it possible for us to believe again.
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