Some people never figure out their life’s purpose. You’ve known it ever since you were 8 years old, waking up on Christmas morning to find Santa talking with your mom in the broom closet.
You saw that twinkle in his eye, the cookie crumbs in his beard, that belly full of joy. And when he said, “What? You have a kid?” you thought you saw a lightning bolt crack in the air, but it was just Santa running out of your house faster than you thought humanly possible.
“Well, that clinches it,” you said to your speechless mother. “I want to be just like Santa when I grow up.”
She looked at you funny and told you to never say that again. She didn’t understand.
You never saw him after that, but you held a sliver of hope in your tiny heart that one day you would get an answer to all your questions, like: why use a door when there’s a perfectly good sleigh on the roof? Do reindeer need to get fixed? Will Santa ever bring me a friend?
These questions weren’t answered that day, but they led you down a path that brought you to that mall, that uniform, and that destiny.
You thought becoming a mall Santa would be the pinnacle of your life, but boy, you were just getting started. After a briefly unpleasant conversation with a young boy who asked why your breath smelled like fermented albatross, his mother complained to your teenage manager and demanded that you apologize for being “the most unceremoniously disgusting, deranged, albatross-smelling excuse for a mall Santa the likes of which the world has ever seen.”
Okay, so it probably wasn’t the best idea to pick up one of the elves and throw him like a football at the mother’s face. It also wasn’t a good idea to start flapping your arms like some long-range seabird, but at least they didn’t think about asking for the uniform back. It was all yours now. As you walked out of that mall, you promised to wear it all the time. You’d wear it when you slept. You’d wear it when you ate. After a while, you started getting mistaken for a gigantic, walking red egg and people started fleeing from you in droves. This isn’t working, you thought. It’s January. Christmas is over. What are you going to do now?
You suddenly remembered that when you liquidated your life savings to buy that bus ticket to the North Pole (which didn’t work out) you had a little bit left over and got a storage unit. It’s just a costume, you told yourself. It’s fine if you store it away until you need it again. But if that’s true, why was it so hard? Maybe it was because you had been wearing it for four weeks straight and it was getting a little crusty in places, or maybe it was because this costume meant more to you, in that moment, than your own dear mother. Either way, you had no other option, so you opened the latch, threw it in there, and joined the United States Armed Forces.
Your time in basic training turned out to be the stuff of legends. Never before had the drill sergeant seen anyone with such an encyclopedic knowledge of Christmas trivia. At nights, after their runs, all the recruits would sit around you in a circle and you’d tell them stories about Rudolph, Mrs. Claus, even the Great Elf Uprising of 1976 and the brutal period of totalitarian dictatorship that followed.
After a while, your drill sergeant told you that they had a problem. You just weren’t fit to be a soldier. He said that you were being transferred to Public Relations and were going to act as something called “Uncle Sam,” because you were a “feeble, weathered, and disturbing old man.”
At first, it didn’t feel right. You felt almost like you were cheating on Santa with another mythical geriatric male. At that point, it was July, and Christmas was but a mere five months away. You brushed away the idea at first, thinking “Uncle Sam always wants ‘you’ to join the U.S. military, but I am an honest man. I only want Christmas.”
But when you opened your storage unit and saw that costume, faded yet still vibrant, you finally saw the truth. Maybe, just maybe, it’s good to have more than one positive male role model in your life.
All your life, you’ve been waiting on the real Santa to bring you a friend of your very own. A friend who would be with you through transformations, who would be there when you eat cookies shaped like Christmas trees at 4:00 a.m. just because you want to feel something. All your life, you’ve only asked Santa to bring you one thing and one thing only, and this costume was it. Who knows what would have happened had you not used StorBox to keep your costume after all this time? “It’s alright to be Uncle Sam for a while, because Santa will always be in here,” you said, pointing to your chest.
A tear silently slid down your cheek, filled with Christmas joy and patriotism in equal parts. “Hello, friend,” you said at last.
Yes, the red was a little bit faded, and the fringe had been consumed long ago after you mistook it for frosting, but the magic was still there. Quietly, you repeated the only thing that incredible, magical man ever said to you, “What, you have a kid?”
You chuckled. You may never know what he meant by it, but the one thing you do know is that every time you put on that coat, it feels like you’re wearing the skin of your very best friend. And well, that might just be the true meaning of Christmas.