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A Santa in Notts: "We’d been told that we shouldn't suggest the kids should sit on our knee"

19 December 19 illustrations: Jenny Mure

'Tis the season to be jolly! Unless, of course, you're a Victoria Centre Santa Claus...

It’s a job I never thought I'd end up doing – a friend of mine's wife was running this events company and was like “we're short on Santas,will you do it?” I was a student at the time so I’d always try and get the later shift because I didn't like getting out of bed. 

A big problem was that they'd lost all the beards, so we were left with just one. So, when I’d get there to take over the morning shift, I'd have to wait in the corridor until I knew the other Santa was clear of the building before I could go in. We basically used the elves as a relay team for the beard exchange – you'd have to be super aware of kids who might witness this moment as it would completely destroy their childhood. It felt really stupid, like a military level operation for this ridiculous exchange of beard, all so the kids didn't clock it. Plus, he'd wear it the whole morning, and then give it to me, so it'd be sweaty and smelly. That was definitely the worst part of the job.

One of the guys that I used to pass in the changeover was a frustrated actor who was really bitter. He was a lot older, and he'd try to talk to you about various theatre productions he'd been involved in and what have you, but he was clearly a down-on-his-luck actor that had been reduced to playing the role of Santa. It was quite a fun part to play, but not if you're a sixty-year-old who dreamt of making it big.

It was quite repetitive, you know. Lots of 'Ho, Ho, Hos’. But the good thing about kids is that you never quite knew what they were going to do. Some of them would just burst into tears, some of them would be really super confident. Without the unpredictability of the kids it would've been really boring, but fortunately they kept it relatively interesting by doing crazy kid shit. 

It felt really stupid, like a military level operation for this ridiculous exchange of beard, all so the kids didn't clock it

I thought it was quite sweet that one girl really wanted a stick, so I was like “I'm sure your parents are going to be able to provide you with a stick for Christmas!” Then there was the kid who wanted David Beckham for Christmas. I mean, most of the time it was fairly straightforward stuff, but they would occasionally throw you these weird curveballs.

With a lot of the parents, you could just sense the grumpiness in them. Like “I've just paid like a fiver for this and I wanna get my money's worth.” It was really weird having this happy, wide-eyed kid who really believes in the magical world and really gets into it, and their parents are just stood there giving off a totally different vibe. The contrast was really, really strange.

We’d been told that we shouldn't suggest the kids should sit on our knee, because of the fear around inappropriate contact with children. I think that was around the time people started to get really paranoid about paedophilia – obviously it's important to be aware of those things, but a lot of the parents were really stand-offish, and would keep their children back from you in this guarded way which felt weird and unnatural. I get it, I understand why they'd be like that, but I didn't realise how protective and stressed parents were until I did that job.

I’m a teacher now, but I'm a Christmas tree salesman on Saturdays. Clearly the affinity for seasonal work is rooted deep in me somewhere.

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