My dad was Santa Claus. (OK, he was “a” Santa Claus because we all know Santa needs helpers during his busy season).
My dad’s Santa beat was Children’s Mercy Hospital (CMH) on Christmas mornings. This wasn’t something he was hired to do; he and my stepmom were already volunteering at Children’s Mercy so he volunteered to be Santa one year… and never looked back.
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I don’t remember the exact timing, but he visited every kid at the hospital on Christmas morning for around 10 years and I went with him as his “elf” for several of those years. We would meet our designated Children’s Mercy employee and they would take Santa from room to room. The hospital would have gifts for each patient (many of which were donated by Hallmark). He would deliver the gifts and would pose for Polaroids so the kids could prove that Santa had found them even though they were in the hospital. It was a very magical experience to get to do these visits ON Christmas morning instead of the days and weeks before, as so many other Santa visits happen.
There’s a reason why I’m telling you this story. It is a reason that is both heartbreaking and magical, and it involves a Keepsake Ornament.
See, my dad passed away suddenly and unexpectedly from a stroke in July 2000. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years, but his Santa gig was part of our healing process. It was part of the words I shared at my dad’s funeral, and the minister closed the memorial service by reciting the closing line of “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” leaving the congregation to finish with, “…and to all a good night” in unison. My family didn’t know he was going to do that; it was its own little bit of healing magic.
And then ornament season began at Hallmark. I honestly can’t recall if it was during Keepsake Ornament Premiere or after Ornament Debut later that same year, but at some point I stopped by the employee shop to look at ornaments and…
One of the featured Santa ornaments in 2000 didn’t have Santa in it at all. Lovingly sculpted by Robert Chad was Santa’s empty chair, with his boots neatly placed underneath, and his red coat draped across the arm. Santa was retired for the night, weary from his rounds.
Just like my dad had retired his Santa suit, trading it for a pair of angel wings.
I bought one of those ornaments for every member of my family that year, and we hung one on a tree that December at the funeral home where his memorial service took place. For my family, I put my dad’s name and dates on the back. Mine I’ve kept as is, but it has NEVER been put away in the 20 years since; when it isn’t out in our Christmas display, it is in my home office.
In these 20 years I’ve never ceased to be amazed and dumbfounded by the utter MAGIC of THAT ornament coming out at THAT time. That is why I so deeply believe in the magic of not only the Keepsake Ornaments, but in Hallmark and its mission, and why I am so proud to work for this company.