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Cabbages and Kings

There Is No John J. Sack

By John J. Sack

Santa Claus must never promise anything to anybody. That might embarrass the parents, Mr. Spang told me, and he stressed it again and again the day I reported for work. I was to be one of three Santas at R. H. White's, replacing a Mr. Boccuzzi who had just contracted some childhood disease and was away at the hospital. Spang himself works on the Number One shift and is an old hand at the job. He is a truck driver during the off season and, when you get down to it, not a very jolly fellow; but once he went to a Santa Claus school and he takes his work seriously. "There has always been a Santa Claus," Spang likes to say," and there still is, and there always will be."

Spring never promises anything to anybody. As each waif toddles into his throne room--and about 1,000 do so every day--he whines, "Ohhh, here's an old friend of Santa's!" He asks the tot what he wants for Christmas and, after listening attentively to the list, sends him off with a pat on the head and a cheery exhortation to "Be Good!" I felt this was rather ungenerous, and usually prefer to dismiss a child with, "All right! Santa won't forget you at Christmas!" or some such ambiguous statement.

An interview with a toddler is necessarily quite summary, but there are many ways to make it more personal. If Spang or I overhear a mother saying, "Here's Santa now, Maureen," we will usually greet the girl with a joyous, "Oh, I remember you! You're Maureen" There are many other ruses. If a boy has a shirt labelled "Steve," it is safe to assume that that is his name; if a girl wears a Girl Scout beret, we can confidently ask her how she's doing in the troop. If she carries a new pocketbook, we say, "Oh, what a pretty purse! You didn't have that last year, did you?" A boy who asks for a toy gas station can be queried, "You mean for your cars?" Some ploys are ridiculousy simple--I ask a boy his age and he says he's five, "Oh of course!" I exclaim. "You were four last year!" Whereupon the boy will nod his head happily, proud that Santa remembers.

Every child we see believes in Santa Claus. None of them pull Santa's beard; and none of them ask why they didn't get what they asked for last year, because, as you remember, Santa never promised anything. The most disruptive thing that happened to the Santa Claus department all week was the arrival of a man from Beechnut Gum. He had several bins of the stuff, and suggested that we pass it out free, which I was glad to do. Spang, however, looked at the gum somewhat goggle-eyed and announced, "Well, I'm certainly not going to give it to every Tom, Dick, and Harry!" Several children left Spang's throne-room crying because they weren't given any gum, and this worried Spang to some degree. As of yesterday, he was still struggling to find a solution.

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