Over the years, Michael has become more portly and now sports a long gray beard, nearly all white. He has shared on more than one occasion how strangers have stopped him and called him Santa. Once a small child was convinced he was the real deal who just happened to be out for breakfast at a local diner.
Today, Michael embraced his Santa self and became Santa for the residents at the home where his partner now resides. His partner has Alzheimers and has been living at the home for almost a year. (Michael still goes almost every day to see him.) What made this an unusual visit was that this is a Jewish retirement facility which serves only kosher food. Michael was advertised as the Jewish Santa.
We first went to the 6th floor, the assisted living area, where the residents were singing Christmas carols (about 20% of the residents and most of the staff are not Jewish). Michael greeted each resident personally with a few “Sei gesunds,” “Shabbat Shaloms,” and “Oy Veys” thrown in. Many wanted to touch his beard. One patted his belly. He asked each one if they have been good. One woman shouted, “Did you bring me a present?” Michael visited one resident who is bed-ridden and she totally believed he was the real Santa. “Bless you,” she said, “that you visited me.” She was thrilled. “Have you been a good girl,” he asked. “Yes, all morning,” she answered.
After passing out Hanukah gelt for presents and after explaining his job as present-maker and deliverer and connecting it somehow to Simchas Torah (because after a few days of rest, it starts all over again), he and his entourage of helpers went down to the 5th floor where his partner resides. The 5th floor residents were eating lunch and Michael made the rounds, shaking hands, hugging. Many of them seemed to recognize him. He knew all their names, but it was hard to know whether they recognized Michael himself or the character of Santa Claus. One complained that the bean soup in front of her was awful, as if his “Clausness” could solve her culinary issue.
Sometimes it’s hard to know, even with the best of intentions, what actions we perform that will bring meaning to others. Michael’s sleigh ride through the residential living facility today was a flash of red, a hug, a warm handshake, a hairy beard, heartfelt words, faux fur, loud “ho ho hos,” name recognition, intent listening, laughter, another flash of red, eye to eye contact, more laughter, singing, and some chocolate. For many of us, that is way more than enough.