Sweltering Santa | Classic | Last word

Jolly St Nick’s red wool suit wasn’t designed for tropical heat . . . Originally published in 2004, this Beat classic was reproduced in the November/December 2018 issue

  • Illustration by James Hackett

The Santa suit was made of wool, and the tall black boots would hardly go over my feet. The jacket buttoned up to my neck. I fastened the long white beard behind my ears with elastic, and glued on the shaggy white eyebrows. I donned the Santa hat and rang the Santa bell. No reindeer had been supplied. “Ho ho ho,” I said cautiously.

The sack of Christmas gifts was heavy, since every child had to get one, but I found I could swing it over my shoulder without staggering too much.

The real trouble was visual.

“Take those glasses off, man,” clucked Pearl, who had organised the party. “Santa don’t wear glasses!”

I protested. Santa is getting on in years and must need glasses by now, if not a walker. But Pearl was adamant. No spectacled Santas.

So Santa could hardly see. He groped. People were a vague blur.

“Ho ho ho,” I said again. It didn’t sound very jolly yet. Pearl didn’t think so either. “Louder!” she commanded.

I puffed up my chest, swung the sack of gifts and nearly overbalanced. I heard Pearl sigh.

“Santa’s got to sound really jolly,” Pearl said, “so all the kids will come running to him as soon as they hear him.”

“Ho ho ho!” I bellowed.

Sweat was trickling down my face and into my eyes. It was three in the afternoon, the sun was blazing, and there was no breeze. What does Santa use for antiperspirant, I wondered? Perhaps nothing, being accustomed to conditions at the North Pole.

Pearl pushed me out into the garden where the kids were playing. “Hey guys,” she called, “Look who’s here!” I could see streaks of light emitting loud shrieking noises.

“Ho ho ho!” I said loudly. Nobody took any notice. I brandished my bell.

“Ho ho HO!” I roared, swinging the sack of goodies off my shoulder and accidentally felling what seemed like a young girl. She started to cry.

“Look what I’ve got here!” I cried, delving into the sack. Some of the kids drifted over, with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. “The first one is for . . .”

I sat down, pulled out the first wrapped gift, and peered at the label. I couldn’t read it. No glasses.

“Well,” I said lamely, “who’s going to come and help Santa read the labels?”

I detected giggling and steupsing. But the girl I’d knocked down came and sat on my knee, sniffing loudly, and read out the names in a piercing voice. “Jason!” she began. Out of the haze a figure appeared, and I thrust the gift at where I guessed its hands should be. The hands ripped the wrapping off right away and the figure shouted “O gyad, My First Encyclopaedia of History,” and steupsed loudly.

When the sack was empty, the child beside me said, “Santa, why you so wet?”

I was sodden, it was true. Try playing Santa in ninety-five-degree-Fahrenheit tropical heat, wrapped up in a woollen suit and hat.

“Well,” I explained, “Santa lives at the North Pole, so the Caribbean’s a bit hot for him.”

“Are you really Santa?” she said accusingly. “I think you’re a friend of my daddy.”

I beamed reassuringly. But the child persisted. “So how come there’s another Santa in the mall? And another Santa that came to our school on Tuesday?”

“Ah,” I said. Sherlock Holmes, I presume. I had seen the mall’s Santa: he worked in air-conditioning, he was as tubby as I am tall, and he was surrounded by dwarves, cotton-wool snow, and plastic pines. He even had a sleigh to recline in.

“I’ll tell you a secret,” I whispered, “if you promise not to tell anyone else. Nobody sees the real Santa, because Santa has to be in so many places at the same time, all over the world. So he has lots of special assistant Santas, like me — ”

“Hey,” the child screamed in horror, “this isn’t the real Santa, and he can’t even read!”

“No no no,” I cried, scrambling to my feet, sodden now with shame as well as sweat. “Just kidding, of course I’m the real Santa, I’m off to the North Pole tonight, ho ho ho!”

“Yeah right,” said the child, and sped off.

Pearl’s voice snapped: “Now look what you’ve done, you jackass!”

There’s no gratitude in this world any more, I tell you.

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