There is something about the white bearded man with a protruding tummy dressed in red, bellowing ‘Merry Christmas’ that lights up the atmosphere with giggles, riotous laughter and joy. The arrival of Santa Claus is almost always the highlight of any Christmas celebration and is saved for the last. While many wonder who the man or woman behind the mask is, there are those who revel in playing the jolly old man year after year.

For Lakshmi Narayan, a student volunteer with Bhumi, Sunday was the first time he donned the snowy beard. “The kids were so happy to see me and they came running towards me. They danced around and poked Santa’s tummy. It was a special feeling, standing in the middle of a room, handing out gifts to children. I was overwhelmed with happiness.”

Centre of attention

Being the cynosure of all eyes and holding the power to instantly spark off smiles gives these Father Christmases a definite high. “It is always a moment of pride for me,” says Robin Patricks, whose height made him an ideal candidate for the role. “Almost every kid in the room rushes towards me and wants to shake hands with me.” The disguise allows the person to shed inhibitions, feels Arun Anand, youth vice-president of a CSI church in Ponmalai. “Santa Claus has to be an entertainer, and a spontaneous one at that. Rehearsals or preparation do not help much.” Though Santa may have nothing much to say except for ‘Ho, ho,ho’, it is important to get the body language and expressions right to send children into squeals of laughter. “What makes me want to play Santa year after year is the thrill of sending smiles all around the room.”

Michael Raja, a postgraduate student who took to playing Santa two years ago, swears he will do it for a long time to come. “Last year, I played Santa at two orphanages and the kids forgot themselves and started dancing. I always wanted to play Santa as I still remember the thrill of receiving sweets that Santa handed around when I was a kid.”

At a celebration organised for 120 HIV infected kids at Rettavaikal, everyone got a chance at playing Santa with masks going around. “The children fell into a train behind Santa and circled the premises to the tune of Jingle Bells,” said a volunteer who dressed up to entertain them. “Being hugged and fed cakes meant a lot to them as usually people hesitate to touch or hug them on account of their health status.”

Playing Santa is not an easy task for Santa has to slouch, jiggle and jostle in a heavy costume with the added baggage of a tummy, ensuring that everyone has a good time, while he or she may not. “Though I was sweating for hours, I didn’t feel uncomfortable. I was just happy being their Christmas thatha,” says Narayan. “Toddlers who see Santa Claus for the first time usually get scared and cry. It takes time to pacify them,” chuckles Arun. Disguise is incomplete without a touch of hilarity, admits Michael. “I have been chased by dogs on three occasions during carol rounds. Perhaps it’s the costume.”