Long ago and far away – the mid 80s – I was a young Navy wife living on an island in southern Italy. The holidays were fast approaching, and I was not going to get to see my family. I was in good company. Most of the Navy folks really didn’t have the money to go home, so we all tried to make the holidays merry for each other. One of the sailors, a friend of mine named Bill, had agreed to play the part of Santa for some pre-recorded spots for Armed Forces TV to show on the weekends before Christmas. He was excited (and probably a little nervous) to do this thing all by himself. I think that was the reason he said to me one day “Hey, your name is Holly. Would you like to be my elf on the show?” I said yes, not really knowing what I would be asked to do. The budget for this thing was beyond low. Just Bill in a big armchair in a Santa suit, and me in a shiny green top from my closet, a Santa hat, and some Christmas ornament earrings I borrowed from a girlfriend. Poof! I was an elf.
Bill would sit in the chair and I would read to him the letters we got from children whose families were stationed at bases in our area. Every child that sent a letter got a candy-filled stocking provided by the commissary, and the ones we read on the air got a stuffed reindeer as well. I thought it would be a fun thing to do to take my mind off being so far from home. Just a light distraction. Man, was I wrong!
Bill and I started reading the letters and we knew we were in trouble. Most of them were just regular letters (asking Santa how he and the reindeer were doing, etc.) and about as riveting as picking tinsel out of the carpet. The other ones really got to us. These kids were asking the tough questions. We had to make a choice: be dull and safe, or really try to give these kids a decent answer that would not dash their vision of Santa. We chose to answer the tough ones and give it our level best. It was some of the most creative writing I have ever done.
Now I don’t want you to think that every answer we gave was right up there with “Yes Virgina”, but we had some good ones. A little boy shrewdly asked where Santa got all the money to buy the very expensive stereos and video games. Our answer was that the owners of big toy and electronics companies had little boys and girls too, and generously gave Santa and the Elves any toys they could not make for themselves so their children would not miss out on Christmas too. Another said a boy in class was calling her names and asked if Santa would still bring him gifts if he kept being mean to her (she P.S.’ed that she hoped he wouldn’t). Santa told her he was sorry that that boy had been mean, but no child is always mean or bad all the time, and Santa tries to find the good in every child, because the naughty list is a terrible place to be. But the question we got asked the most by far was “Santa, are you real?”
That was the biggie we knew we would have to answer.
It was the BIG question. It just sat there in our minds. We decided to save it as the last question on the last show. We worked on that answer the whole month, adding here, marking out there, fussing at each other sometimes because we really felt that we had to get this one right.
It was the end of our segment and Bill looked at the camera and said “Holly Elf and I have gotten many questions from you but the question you asked the most is, ‘Is Santa real?’ We are here to tell you a secret. I am Santa, but so are you. You are Santa when someone is nice to you and you gift them with kindness, you are Santa when you gift your parents with good behavior and helpfulness. Anytime you see the good in another person and let them know that you appreciate them, you are Santa. So you can be Santa anytime you want, all year long, and the more you do the more likely you will see me over your house on Christmas eve.”
I was so happy and proud at that moment. Holly Elf had happy tears smearing all her glitter blush, but we said goodbye and signed off. It was wonderful. I don’t think they ever did a segment like that again, and I have no footage, but it stays with me always in my mind. I smile every time I see someone walking around in a Santa hat, because I know I am seeing Santa. They are Santa. I am Santa and so are you.
(c) Holly Leach All rights reserved.