All dressed up and no one to talk to !

Many will remember 2020 as the longest year of their lives. Let me tell you about the longest hour of mine.

I am so impressed with the endless examples of kindness and generosity in these days leading up to Christmas---the charities on overdrive, overworked health care workers and others going the extra mile, lights strung to cheer us all on in these dark times.

So when I received a call for help one day this week I couldn’t say no. YourTV, Cogeco community cable service, urgently needed a last-minute replacement for Mrs. Claus because the original performer was under the weather.

Who could say no and disappoint all those girls and boys out there lined up to phone in and talk to Santa and the Missus!

How could I leave Bill Visser, the show’s producer and tireless volunteer for so many good causes in Kingston and the jolliest Santa Claus I have ever met, without an assistant. He had thought of asking his son but suddenly finding a

costume for a six foot elf was a bridge too far. I was out of the shower and on the road to the downtown Kingston TV studio knowing only that a costume awaited and all I had to do was fill the chair and help Santa chat up our little callers.

It turned out that this piece of cake assignment made child birth and root canals a pushover by comparison. I pause to explain that I am one of a small army of volunteers who contribute to YourTV, which provides a wide variety of programming to keep our community engaged and informed about local events, services and good causes and reflects the rich history and culture of this area.

YourTV broadcasts all meetings of City Council and I am a rotating panelist on a show called Council in Action that each week reports on the highlights of Council and comments on the issues and the players. As I drove downtown I couldn’t decide whether my new role as Mrs. Santa was a promotion or a demotion from political punditry but I was about to find out it was a heck of a lot harder. Lampooning city councilors is one thing; tippy toeing around the sensitivities of tiny tots is another. The mayor is only the mayor but Santa Claus is king. The reality of what I had plunged myself into clicked the moment I walked into

the Cogeco building.

I was not going to be Mrs. Claus after all. I learned that tonight’s show was the third and final in a series and there was concern that it would be upsetting for some children to notice that Mrs. Claus had changed from her two previous

appearances. After all, for hundreds of years Santa has been a pillar of monogamy and flawless behaviour.

So what to do? I suggested we just say the original Mrs. Claus was off sick. Nope.

That could cause havoc to think she might have COVID-19 and this would cause Santa to go into quarantine along with his reindeer and disappoint millions of kids around the world.

How about Mrs. Claus stayed home to look after the grandchildren? Nope.

Apparently, Mr. and Mrs. Claus don’t have offspring. It’s amazing that after all these years I didn’t know that.

We finally decided I would be Mrs. Claus’s sister, Sally, who was pinch hitting for her more famous sibling who was busy at home baking cookies and helping the elves.

What began as a simple assignment was quickly turning into a series of protocols, conventions and practices worthy of a high level briefing of diplomats entering Middle East peace talks.

We agreed to be careful not to make promises Santa could not keep. Our job was to listen to the children and enjoy their innocent banter. Hopefully, there would be no calls from people already into the Christmas cheer---as sometime happens on other call-in shows.

And then came the costume. It was lovely. Red velvet, faux fur, lace trim, a white apron, matching hat and a curly wig. I had been assured that I and my predecessor in this role are about the same size. I should have known better than

to accept a man’s judgment and assurance on this.

My guess is she is about two sizes smaller. It took two of us to get me zippered in. If I looked pained at times it was because I was having trouble breathing.

To my chagrin, when I looked into the mirror it occurred to me that with makeup and curls I looked better than I do in normal life these days. The pandemic has taken its toll on a lot of us.

Well, the countdown ended, the lights came on, Bill (aka jolly old St. Nick) adroitly welcomed the audience with his hearty ho ho hoes, I smiled and we were off on our 60 minute adventure into the joys and perils of live television.

At the 10 minute mark there were no calls despite Santa’s repeated invitations (which became more like plaintiff pleas as the hour progressed.) By this time during the two previous shows there was a lineup of 15 callers or more waiting their turn to talk to the Clauses. Tonight, silence. We talked and we talked and we talked. We covered cookie recipes, pets, our own Christmas memories, and a host of other light subjects. Perhaps there were technical difficulties and the calls couldn’t get through. The control room quickly discounted that excuse.

Fortunately, we had in hand some letters that had been sent in prior to the show and we read these to help fill a bit of time. Finally, a dear little four year old named Juliana called. What a gift for the Clauses. We talked to Juliana for as long as we could and were very supportive of her hope for a kitten despite our pre-show discussion that Santa should be wary of pet requests because the last thing some parents want to see under the tree is a four-legged creature the kid is soon to lose interest in and abdicates feeding, walking and other duties to the adults.

Santa and Sally were running thin on repertoire when a message on the monitor informed us we had 30 minutes to go. I felt like I was on the operating table and heard the surgeon say “well, I’ve removed two or three organs but I think we’d better cut out a couple more things while we’re in here.”

Santa and I exchanged the looks of weary troops in a trench who have a job to do and we bravely soldiered on for another half hour. With less than 15 minutes to go a wonderful trio called. God bless Nathan and his sisters Addison and Danica. They were excited, bubbling kids full of Christmas vim and vigor and they will never know what a gift they were to Santa Claus and his sidekick Sally in her rented curls and tight dress.

They also wanted a cat and our Santa stick handled that one like a pro and assured them, like our other leaders these days, that he would take that request very seriously.

And then the words we were praying for: three minutes to go.

We did it. Battle worn, old Santa came through as he always does.

It’s a mystery why there were so few calls. Maybe the kids all went to bed early this particular night. Maybe there was a Christmas special on another channel.


Christmas is all about miracles and joy and hope and memories.

I will remember this one for a long time and how four little kids---Juliana, Nathan,

Addison and Danica saved Santa’s and his sister-in-law’s bacon.


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