Power in the furry red suit | VailDaily.com

Power in the furry red suit

Scott N. Miller Vail Daily, Vail Colorado
NWS Santa PU 12-16-06

EAGLE COUNTY – Santa is usually quick with a quip for kids. But one child caught a local Santa off guard a couple of years ago with a five-word wish.”I want my momma back.””That’s a heart wrencher,” Dr. Steve Oakson said, his voice catching a moment with the memory. “It turned out his mom had died of cancer that fall.”What can Santa tell that child? Not much. “You just say, ‘Santa can put in a good word, but there’s not much I can do,” Oakson said.Oakson is in a fairly exclusive club of people who become Santa Claus a few times a year. Oakson started when the Eagle Lions Club asked him in 2000 to volunteer for Santa duty during Eagle’s annual Christmas on Broadway celebration. He’s come back for more every year since.Oakson, and other veteran Santas put on the suit because they enjoy being able to talk with children, and keep them believing. And, one Santa said, putting on the suit can be transforming.”It really is a magical, soul-affirming experience,” Clark Brittain said.Brittain is a special Santa, one of the few who has his very own, home-grown beard. He takes being Santa seriously, wearing blue contact lenses to cover up his green eyes.”Something really does happen when it all comes together,” Brittain said. “I’m told the tone of my voice changes. I’ve been able to talk to piano students of mine I’ve seen two days before, and they talk to me as Santa.”

There’s power in the suit and that power is taken seriously by the Santas interviewed for this story.”You never promise anything,” Tom Gaylord said. Gaylord becomes Santa for the Vail Recreation District’s Youth Services program. Like other Santas, he’s heard plenty of requests while mom or dad turn a little pale.”Last week I had a brother and sister,” Gaylord said. “She wanted a kitten, and the boy wanted a puppy. All the time mom was standing by going ‘no, no, no.’ So you say, ‘Wow, that’s important. Maybe your mom and dad should make that decision.'”Brittain takes a similar approach, with his own twist.”I tell them I’ll consider it, and I’ll check my records, but that I have to clear everything through their parents,” Brittain said. “I tell them I can’t bring live animals without complete clearance from their parents. I’ll talk about the responsibility they need to have with animals.”Santas get a lot of requests for animals, or dirt bikes. But they get some touching ones, too. All three Santas in this story said they’ll often have kids say they want something for their parents or siblings.

“Some kids will say ‘I have everything I want, please give my presents to someone who needs them more,'” Brittain said. “The first time I heard that I nearly dropped him off my lap.”All the Santas have methods for getting shy kids to open up. Most involve getting close to a kid and putting an ear close to a child’s mouth. Those conversations are almost private.”When they realize I’m listening, and it’s kind of a private conversation, sometimes they’ll open up,” Brittain said.

Oakson said sometimes he wishes he could do more for the kids who come to talk to him. “It’s hard with the Hispanic kids, because I don’t speak Spanish,” he said. “About all I know is feliz navidad.”When Oakson and Gaylord put Santa away, they’re able to wander off without being noticed. Brittain’s life is different.”I kind of know how it feels to be a celebrity,” he said. “When you’re dressed like Santa, you can’t just go anywhere. Being recognized by everyone, everywhere is daunting.”When Dec. 26 comes, Brittain is ready to be done with Santa, and really ready to shave.”And you don’t necessarily want to be nice,” he said.But there’s a payoff for all these Santas, and it isn’t always with kids. Brittain has made a few Santa appearances at nursing homes around Denver, where he now lives. “You’ll see people slumped over in wheelchairs, and they seem like they don’t know much or respond to much,” he said. “But boy do they ever respond to Santa. That experience is worth it all.”================Santa around the worldIn the United States he’s known as Santa Claus. In much of the rest of the world, he’s known as Father Christmas. Here are some names from other countries:Afghanistan: Baba ChaghalooAlbania: Babadimri

Denmark: JulemandenHungary: MikulasMalta: San NiklawRussia: Ded MorozSouth Africa: Vader KersfeesSource: Wikipedia.org=======================Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or smiller@vaildaily.com.

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