By HAROLD VALENTINE and TREVOR LAUTENS
He’s a classic. Some Santas are sincere but painfully unconvincing. Some are starvingly skinny, as if the North Pole could use a food bank. Some have joylessly droopy beards heading south onto their chests. The red suits of course are instantly identifiable but some are so fusty-foosty I’d be glad to direct their wearer to my favourite West Vancouver dry cleaner for a little rehabilitation.
This Santa Claus is, as the saying goes or used to go, the real deal (not that I’m fond of the phrase).
He’s a mirthful girthful who wears Santa’s extra avoirdupois healthfully, as if his flesh is taut with constant hard work and bespeaks good bones underneath the less-than-sylph-like figure. Under his bespectacled blue eyes he has Santa’s high apple cheeks that can’t be faked. Up close it’s plain that the flowing beard grows out of his skin and isn’t manufactured at the wig shop.
But this Santa has one other striking difference separating him from other Santas.
Like a canary he whistles.
He’s the Whistling Santa of West Vancouver’s Caulfeild Village.
He’s an institution. He’s presided for years over the shopping centre’s Salvation Army kettle.
This Santa whistles with seductive natural skill. Nothing like it since the early Bing Crosby, if you’ve lived so long (in the past). And with a rangey repertoire. Sacred, popular. Away in a Manger. Deck the Halls. We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Hark the Herald Angels Sing. The Little Drummer Boy. Jingle Bells (obligatory). I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (please, not that!). Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
And also: Up on the Rooftop. O Little Town of Bethlehem. I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. We Three Kings. Walking in a Winter Wonderland. Ode to Joy. Santa Claus is Coming to Town. What Child Is This? O Come All Ye Faithful.
And many more. The clear, clean notes cut through the thick December air, gently contrapuntal to the vehicular and commercial clatter and raising spirits. “Some people,” he says, “come all the way from the other side of the parking lot wanting to know if the whistling is real or a recording, then invariably add something to the kettle.”
That kettle is an icon of the world’s great, arguably most generous organization (veterans of WW2 have testified that the SA charged them nothing at their canteens and for other services, unlike certain others).
So it’s a tad odd that he’s not a member of the Salvation Army – or of any church. Holds no formal religious or spiritual affiliation. Not a bit preachy. Not holier-than-thou. Just does good. Which makes him even more universally Santa-like.
It began with Mrs. Claus: “My wife was the first of us to work on the kettles, and dragged me, kicking and screaming, to become a part of it too.” Santa is vague about how many years ago. (But would Santa count in human years?) They’ve done the kettle turn in Whistler, Squamish, North Vancouver. Currently Mrs. Claus works the kettle at Fresh St. Market, in West Vancouver’s Ambleside neighbourhood.
For three or four years the Clauses travelled the ferries every morning and night from their Sunshine Coast home – long, exhausting days over the six-week kettle program season.
This year they volunteered only for Friday or Saturday shifts. “So what does Mrs. Claus do? She says that we have to put in some extra shifts in Sechelt for the SA on the coast.”
Santa relates he was born in the U.S. and was named for a relative whose last name – you couldn’t make this up – was Jolly. He vividly recalls when his mother “sat me down and said ‘Well, dear, actually there is no Santa Claus. Most of your toys are from us, your grandparents and other relatives, but you have always had some that were labelled from Santa Claus. Maybe I should have told you sooner. Now that you know the truth, you must not tell the younger kids, including your brother and sisters, that Santa isn’t real.’ ’’
Santa paused, mused: “I can’t say that I was very happy with this new information. … From that point on I was much more wary of anything that was told to me.” (Perhaps that skepticism about authority influenced him to move here as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War with his Canadian-born wife.)
But he’s long revisited that youthful disillusionment: “My mother may have been right that Santa didn’t exist and bring those presents, but she was also wrong.”
He emphasized: “I am NOT a spiritual person, but I believe that good is better than evil. That evil sometimes presents itself as good. I think that I understand the core teachings of Jesus and agree with them. I also believe that evil has twisted some of them, and people are confused about what to believe. For myself. I believe in Santa Claus!”
Be amazed. A man who, any rational person would say, not only dresses up as Santa Claus but actually believes in him. As Santa Claus would, wouldn’t he? That is, if he really existed, wouldn’t he believe in himself?
Not to lure anyone into questioning what thoroughly up-to-date progressive persons – adherents of the rational, to repeat – know is mere myth, superstition, folklore. They aren’t children. (They haven’t the deeper wisdom of children.)
But the astute reader will have noted that nowhere in this stick of type have I revealed his name.
That’s because he politely declined to publicly state it. Not out of fear of ridicule or whatever. But because he thinks such personal self-hyping would detract from the deserved subject, the Salvation Army.
So for all I know – which is little enough and, as time passes, getting less – his real name is:
And he whistles.
Holland House Communications Ltd., Vancouver. Copyright 2019.