I got an email on Friday: How would you like to make some easy money? We need a stand-in to play a Christmas fairy with Santa this weekend at the local mall. Hells yeah! This was my dream job last Christmas, but my application for Space Elf to help Santa atop the Space Needle was rejected. Here in Australia however, the job of Christmas Poinsettia Fairy falls in my lap.
I’ve been feeling homesick again; the summer weather simply doesn’t feel Christmasy to me. I have been digging Elvis’ ballad “Blue Christmas” and crying at Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”. I am filled with holiday spirit, but need an outlet, and Christmas pageantry is just the ticket. All decked out in my shiny costume, poinsettia-petal wings, butterfly-tinsel-wreath, red lipstick, and glitter, I checked into the mall’s office to meet my Santa.
“What agency are you with? Are you from xyz productions?” he pestered me, trying to determine my acting pedigree. Because, as he quickly informed me, he was quite an actor himself. Have I spoken with his agent? Because he could put me in touch. Oh, he’s played Santa for years now, and does voice over acting too. Would I like to hear some impressions? Doesn’t matter if I do or not, as he immediately launches into a terrible stereotypic borderline-offensive Indian convenience store owner impression. He follows it up with an awful approximation of Elvis.
Santa likes to chat and somehow it segues into Vietnam. He’s a vet, was a truck driver during the war, never shot anyone but did go into the fields to cart away bodies. The things those soldiers did, man… they’d go into villages and rape native girls. But no one likes a rapist, and sometimes the men would shoot the offenders–from their own side–and blame it on Charlie.
We step into the sparsely populated shopping centre. An older woman at the gift wrap station yells that Santa is missing his hat. Whoops. I smile widely, wave to kids, and wish everyone a Merry Christmas. I love how smiling at another person has power to generate a little extra happiness in the world. Most kids get very still when they see us, star-struck by the big man. One precocious kid in a hot pink romper isn’t shy at all; she asks why I walk instead of fly, then accuses me of not being a real fairy!
A few kids visit and we make their day, but they are few and far between. Santa ends up talking about drugs with a group of teenagers: “This one [points at me] gets me in all kinds of trouble–alcohol, weed, shooting heroin…” What?! In the US, Santas are pretty good about staying in character, what the hell is this!? The teens love it. I pull him away for a photo op. He does another bad Elvis impression and calls me ‘baby’.
Up on the dais, air-con blows onto Santa’s throne. He grumbles about how this place has gone down hill. I continue to flutter about, recruiting children. Santa sees an Asian teenage girl walking by herself and shouts in a phony Asian accent (excuse me, “impression”, so that makes it ok) something terribly racist. He repeats himself in case she didn’t hear. I can’t believe it.
Bored, he steps down, saying let’s go for a walk. He quickly detours into a shop that sells antique housewares. We greet the shopkeeper, then I head back outside. But Santa is transacting business, and it isn’t going well. He storms out with a trolley filled with a grotesque vintage doll, two large stuffed dogs, a rug, and a clock-radio. He’s pissed: “She says she wants to buy these things from me, then changes her mind? How dare she. Now, will you watch the stuff while I get my car keys?” Seriously, dude?
Now key-enabled, Santa pushes the trolley out to the nearby car park, whinging the whole way. En route, he is spotted by a little girl. And she is the absolute cutest little girl. Perhaps three years old, sitting in her mom’s shopping trolley, big blue eyes and curly blond hair in pig tails. She looks at him wide-eyed and excited: Santa! Aw crap, I think. Putting on my best fairy smile, I go over and make Christmas chitchat until Santa is done stuffing shit into his car.
After a few more kids, Santa looks at his watch. We’ve been working for over ninety minutes, which means–according to him–it’s time for a break. Because we’ve been working *really* hard. He shuffles back to the office and then for ten minutes he tries to impress me and a security guard with a mediocre story about meeting the actor who played Kojack.
We re-enter the mall, Santa ringing his attention-grabbing bell loudly, interrupting the new nearby musical act. They graciously thanked him for chiming in (*facepalm*) and continue with lacklustre off-key carols. I sing along, surprising people by knowing the words to all the Christmas standards. (Yes, I’m that person who is happy to hear piped in Christmas music all day every day during the holidays!) The music does make things more festive, but I also can’t get it out of my mind that we all belong in a dingy, third-rate old-school casino lounge…
|The tagline on the sign, just under the picture with piano-key neckties, reads “Let us entertain you”.
But Santa just isn’t into it. He needs to be reminded to zip up the front of his costume. Still sore about not selling his goods, he grumbles about “greedy superficial people” and under his breath wishes the shopkeeper a terrible Christmas. With twenty minutes left in the our shift, Santa left again to check on his car, paranoid that his wares might be stolen, and then knocked off early. Thus concludes my three-hour shift as a Christmas Fairy. Wow…
How did day two go, you may ask? We got far fewer kids and more criers, perhaps in part to Santa’s attitude. He complained about wanting a whiskey, brought a CD player to play his own tunes, took a supersized break, swore repeatedly while adults posed with him for a photo, and then FELL ASLEEP IN HIS CHAIR. I was focused on prepping a little girl who was meeting Santa for the first time when her mom laughed, “Santa’s asleep!”. I had to punch him in the leg to wake him up.
I asked my Aussie friends, is this normal? Are Santas in Australia more casual and rough around the edges? Nope, everyone was shocked… and encouraged me to write it all down right away. :-P Despite his bad behaviour, I did my part and enjoyed it. It felt good to be sparkly and embody cheer, not only spreading the holiday spirit but helping me feel more of it myself. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!