I was not always a fan of Santa Claus. As a child, he overwhelmed my senses and sometimes smelled of booze. My sister Kathy and I had our picture taken with Santa one time at a Bamberger’s. I did all I could to squirm away from this fella who was just a little too jolly. I was three at the time, and Kathy, who was five, by the looks of the final photo, was mortified but kept her composure for the sake of our family’s honor.

Every December 25th, I would awaken on Christmas morning, along with my five siblings, to the bellowing guffaws of the North Pole’s King of Elves, the one and (not) only, Santa Claus. One year, the same year I got Lincoln Logs and Kathy got her Easy Bake Oven, I was sitting on Santa’s lap, surrounded by the torn remains of wrapping paper, to thank him for all the fine gifts he had given me. He appeared oddly familiar, and I asked about what looked like an elastic band under his nose. He hemmed and then hawed and then said something about America’s 16th president. “You look like my grandpa,” I blurted, and was whisked away by my mother to make room on his vacated lap for Kathy. I pretended I believed in Santa until I was nine years old, at the risk of my brothers and sisters killing me if I didn’t. They weren’t ready for any of us to grow up just yet.

Pals with Santa: (L-R) Timmy Straub, Santa, Paul McEnroe

More than 50 guests would gather on Christmas at our house and celebrate another year of good fortune with a bacchanalian feast. Somewhere someone decided that this is what baby Jesus would want us to do, gorge ourselves into a coma. After dinner and in between desserts, Santa would make an appearance in our living room, more to the delight of the adults than to the stunned silence of the children. He would make some off-color comments and then lead us all in a couple of songs, most boisterously “Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer.”

By the time I was old enough to know, I began to really enjoy the performance and revel in the ignorance of the “babies” who still believed. My Uncle Walt played Santa for many years with such vigorous abandonment, having an entire 6-pack of Schaefer Beer under his big, black belt by showtime, that I had to laugh and sing along. He’ll “go down in history!” My brother Ted took the reins years later when Wally retired from the role. I loved seeing my big brother step into Santa’s black boots and carry on the tradition, but I couldn’t help but wonder, “Will I ever get to be Old Saint Nick? Was there a committee that held auditions? Am I tall enough?”

My cousin Matt was next in line after Ted, and the tradition died altogether when my mom sold our family house of 48 years. I was resigned to living out my life as always, an elf and never a Santa; that is until I moved to Rangeley.

Nine years ago, Carmen Glidden called and asked if I would take her husband Norm’s place as Santa. She told me he said he was ready to step aside. Norm had been playing Santa for a good long time on behalf of The Giving Tree, handing out gifts, singing Christmas songs, and visiting with neighbors. I felt like the 2nd-string QB to Tom Brady finally getting the signal to leave the bench and enter the game.


(L-R) London Danforth, Santa, Rory Danforth

Norm coached me that first year. Here’s the thing, though; Norm was around 6’ 2” tall, with a healthy girth. He was the Adonis of Santas. How do you coach someone to be taller? I could fit my entire body in one of Norm’s boots. But what I lacked in physical attributes I more than made up for with a positive spirit. I had been dreaming of this moment my entire adult life and I was ready for the game. I remember Norm studying me as I cavorted around the community room of the Rangeley Townhouse Apartments, kibitzing and handing out gifts. At one point I sat on his lap and asked what he wanted for Christmas. “For you to get off of my lap,” he said, and then let out a Santa-certified belly laugh and hugged me. I had arrived. I was Santa.

Playing Santa Claus has allowed me to escape from the sideline and into the skin of a highly revered holiday hero. Santa encapsulates the epitome of altruism. He gives to the young and old, the rich and poor, healthy and infirmed, despite skin color, gender, or nationality. And by donning the outrageous outfit that looks like it fell off the hanger at a drag queen show, all eyes uncontrollably drawn to this iconic character, ho-ho-hoing, waving, and patting heads, I understood the responsibility I bore.

What I have come to realize all these years later, ready to suit up as Santa again this December 10th, the seven-year anniversary of Norm’s passing, is that we all get to play Santa in our own way. Whether we’re wearing the bright red suit lined with white fur, or not, we’re off the bench and in the game giving all we have, making spirits bright.

Happy holidays to all and to all a good night.

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