A conversation with Santa Claus

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On a bright and frosty morning decades ago, a young boy and his grandfather whipped across the frozen Iowa farmland. With blankets covering their laps and snowflakes glittering their faces, their one-horse open sleigh pulled them onward. The grandfather’s favorite horse, Diamond, was adorned with, quite literally, jingle bells. It was Christmas. Today, that same boy has a great white beard, a red velvet bag with a golden drawstring, and a jeweled ring decoratively embroidered with the initials “S.C.” He’s sitting in the midst of an ugly Christmas sweater party, asking children what they want for the holidays and curing their bashfulness with a seamless stream of quips and jokes that only come from years of experience and a heart of gold (or, perhaps, tinsel). Patrick Cunningham is Santa Claus. It’s not a performance; it’s a presence he wields like a source of light, coloring the whole room.

“You know, I bet you could ask 100 kids what they want to be when they grow up, and none of them would even think to say Santa Claus,” a participant with a hideous sweater said.“I never ever foresaw myself being Santa when I was younger,” Cunningham said. “But somehow it made sense.” “You play such a good Santa.” another party-goer said, excitedly.“What do you mean playing Santa?” Cunningham responded, “I am Santa!”It took three major events to transform a young boy from Michigan admiring the jingle bells on his grandfather’s horses into a real and true St. Nicholas. It all started when he set his eyes on a cheap, old Santa outfit in a church. During an annual children’s pageant, he spotted the garish thing in the pastor’s office and an idea sparked.“It had this terrible fake beard and was …


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