I spend the entire month of December volunteering with refugees, children with special needs, as well as children in hospitals, women's shelters, and year-round, on-demand visits to children in palliative care facilities.(Plus I make toys for each child I visit.)


Ask me anything! (Posting tonight, answering most queries throughout the day tomorrow.)

Comments: 57 • Responses: 24  • Date: 

yoniyum19 karma

Thanks for doing what you do! My dad also volunteers as Santa for various non-profits, special needs groups, etc. He gets sick every year. :(

What, if anything, do you do to boost your immune system during the holidays since you are exposed to more germs?

ARightJollyOldElf22 karma

Mostly I'm hyper-cautious about sanitization (for the sake of the people I visit as much as for the sake of my immunocompromised wife), so I will sanitize my hands up to the elbows (with a peppermint-scented sanitizer, whenever I'm in a setting where fragrances are allowed) and put on a fresh pair of white gloves between each visit. A lot of my visits are one-on-one or one-on-two-or-three, so I don't often have to deal with big crowds at once, which helps, and a vitamin B complex and selenium supplements give me a tiny boost in antibody production (Just remember to start them a month or two before the season starts. Or year-round.)

For one of the women's shelters I visit locally (one of the few settings where I do deal with a big crowd at once), I've managed to set up a "finger-painting with Santa" activity, where I show up in a "workshop" outfit, we all fingerpaint, sing carols and tell stories, and then I take off my apron, put on my coat, and we take pictures. Fingers full of paint means you have to wash your hands before plopping onto my lap or by my side, and as a bonus gets rid of the germs and grime that built up throughout the day. I've found that doing an activity first (even a short one) means they're more comfortable around me (and I know their personal limits where children with sensory-processing, autism-spectrum and anxiety disorders are concerned) so the pictures their caregivers take look more natural.

yoniyum4 karma

Great answer! I will share your tips with him. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

ARightJollyOldElf9 karma

My pleasure! I don't know the nature of his visits (ie: whether it's "professional photographers" or "parents/nurses/caretakers taking cell-phone pics"), but you can stock up on nylon or cotton jeweler's gloves for about $0.80 a pair (probably even cheaper in the USA). They're washable/reusable, perhaps not quite as nice-looking as a proper parade glove (they lack the seams on the back of the hand), but perfectly serviceable for the relatively-small aperatures of cell-phone cameras while still providing increased visibility and a barrier of protection from germs.

Solodeji10 karma

I appreciate the fact that you followed your passion for services to humanity. Are you being paid for the services rendered or what do you stand to gain?

ARightJollyOldElf14 karma

No, I only work for free. My day-job experiences a rush of commissions leading up to Christmas, all the orders get shipped out by the start of December, and then I've got a slow period from December to mid-January, so I give back to my community however I can during that time. My wife is chronically-ill, and I spent a couple Christmases of my childhood in shelters, so I know how far a little love, kindness and compassion can take someone - especially in a world that can be so cold and alienating to anyone who's perceived as "different".

There's only a limited amount of magic left in the world, and it dwells in the hearts of children. To squander that would be a sin.

Appreciate the kind words! Happy New Year!

lucifer6632 karma

As long as people like you are out there, doing what you do, the magic will live.

ARightJollyOldElf1 karma

Thanks, Lucifer!

God5macked5 karma

How many times has an accident happened on you and what do you do when it does happen?

ARightJollyOldElf9 karma

Mall or home-visit Santas are more likely to run into issues with that just by virtue of volume - I might see 12-15 kids a day, and mall Santas can easily see that many in a 30-minute stretch, so it hasn't been too many for me - maybe 3 per year. When dealing with very young children, or children whose illnesses/conditions are likely to cause incontinence or bladder control issues, I have a little cushion/pillow made of a waterproof tablecloth material that I'll set on my lap before they sit JUST in case.

I'm also blessed with being able to dedicate more time than usual to each child, so I'll usually have time to chat or colour or read or sing with them before their guardians or caregivers take pictures, so usually if accidents are going to happen, they happen early on in the visit, before they're stuck on my lap or by my side.

lime-cake5 karma

At what age do you think it's suitable to let kids know Santa isn't real? Do you think it's better for them to keep the magic?

ARightJollyOldElf18 karma

They'll let you know when they're ready, usually. Once they start questioning, parents or guardians should start planning. I think the actual approach is very personal (for both the child and their family) but I think the important lesson should be that Santa is an ideal rather than an actual material being.

By around 7 or 8 years of age, a lot of kids are surrounded by friends, classmates, siblings or cousins who will hammer into them the idea that Santa isn't real, so it's up to you - as a trusted adult - to let them know that there's a little bit of Santa magic in all of us - especially in them. Have them pick a friend, family member, or neighbour, get or make a little gift for them, and deliver it without ever revealing that it came from them. Remind them that the power of Santa is that of selfless giving. We sowed the seeds of the Santa story, and it's our job as trusted adults to finish the story in a way that's emotionally meaningful and teaches lessons of love for fellow man and the joy of kindness rather than going "Santa's fake, we lied. Move on."

lime-cake5 karma

Thank you. That's a very brilliant way of approaching this topic. That's always something that bothered me. I always think it's hard teaching a kid to be honest, while lying blatantly in his/her face. But the way you put it made things so much better.

ARightJollyOldElf6 karma

I think it's bad enough that so many so-called "Santas" are in it for exactly the wrong reasons; seeing so many parents brush off Santa (as a symbol of all that is selfless and good) with a shrug and a "suck it up" attitude physically makes my heart ache. For me it's just, like, what kind of a message does that send? "Remember that jolly fat guy that I said was a symbol of kindness, generosity, humanity and compassion? He's fake."

Jokesreeba5 karma

What’s the oddest thing a child has ever asked for?

ARightJollyOldElf11 karma

This year I had a little boy ask me for an elevator because he liked riding them, a little girl ask for a box of bugs (cockroaches, spiders, "centipees" and stink bugs), and a ladder.

I've also had everything from a paperclip (Just the one,) a hog farm, a chicken-shaped Christmas tree, a left boot because she could only find the right one, and a wobbly table.

I also get a lot of sad requests, just by the nature of my visits. A lot of children whose mothers have just fled abusive relationships want their daddy back, or for me to be their new daddy, or for me to turn them into elves. I have a lot palliative visits where (terminally-ill) kids just want to see their parents be happy again, which speaks volumes about the hearts of children.

Beezus1454 karma

Has a pre teen or child tried to pull the beard and expose you as ‘fake’ to ruin it for other children?

ARightJollyOldElf7 karma

My beard's a theatrical glue-on (I hate the look of the elastic-mounted things), so it is tuggable, but because of the relatively unique environment in which I work even the most-skeptical of pre-teens is in the "Santa's not real, but this guy's still doing nice things so I won't ruin it" camp.

Mall Santas, home-visit Santas and for-profit Santas would likely be more to face that than I have been, and I don't envy them for that.

retinazer253 karma

What's the best part of being Santa?

ARightJollyOldElf3 karma

Emotionally? My own approach to being Santa means that I get to bring gifts, kindness, and Christmas cheer to people who might otherwise not see any of those things, so the most rewarding part is knowing that I'm putting some good into the world and alleviating the burden of whatever hardship they're facing - even if just for a moment. Getting to serve as a symbol of non-toxic masculinity and learning a lesson in humility from kids who've faced incredible hardship is the icing on the cake.

Physically? Wearing comfy pants. My real job requires a LOT of work with power tools and hand tools, so I'm trapped in jeans (or denim coveralls) 11 months a year. Getting to spend most of December chilling at home in sweatpants and doing Santa visits in velveteen trousers or knickerbockers is a godsend.

snobahr3 karma

How long have you been a Santa? Did you go to one of the Santa Schools? Was your suit custom made for you, or was it OTR?

ARightJollyOldElf4 karma

This past season was my third. I'm a member of The Santa Claus Conservatory and plan to make the journey to C.W. Howard's this coming year, but I've also spent most of my adult life volunteering with children in shelters and hospitals so it was, for me, a logical progression (especially since I come by my padding naturally.)

I've got 3 suits right now! One I made myself to be machine-washable (that's the one linked to in my original post, and is VERY handy for when I've got long visits 2 days in a row, I get spilled on, or I'm working with immunocompromised children), a Planet Santa "Cola" style suit that I had tailored and re-lined with athletic mesh (satin makes me hot), and a workshop outfit that consists of velveteen knickerbockers, a puffy silk shirt, red waistcoat and green apron. All serve their own purposes.

partyinplatypus3 karma

I think we need a picture of workshop Santa!

ARightJollyOldElf5 karma

I'll see what pics I have that don't have any children in it once I hop on the workshop desktop in the morning! Push comes to shove, I'll throw it on and post a body-only shot.

qwiglydee3 karma

Beard. Do you fake it?

ARightJollyOldElf4 karma

I do! I'm only 28, my natural beard is nearly-black and very coarse, so I trim it to stubble and glue on a yak hair beard for my longer visits, and a synthetic beard for my shorter visits.

Once I start going grey, I'll start bleaching and toning and transition to a real-bearded Santa, but for now I enjoy the anonymity of being able to visit as Santa, pop into the bathroom, and leave as me without destroying the magic.

Envisno2 karma

Have you been to Venezuela?

ARightJollyOldElf3 karma

I have not, but I'd love to go sometime.

(Una gran parte de mi corazón pertenece a América Latina.)

TimothyPortugal2 karma

What was the saddest thing you saw?

ARightJollyOldElf1 karma


Answered this in a slightly different format earlier; there are a lot of sad stories, tragically, but that is the one that broke my heart the most.

AestheticZone2 karma

What’s the most heartwarming thing a child has ever asked for?

ARightJollyOldElf1 karma

Multiple terminally-ill children have asked if I could make their parents smile again, so that's heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure. Knowing that the hearts of children are so pure that - even when they're old enough to really understand that they're dying and what death means - they put the happiness of the people they love before themselves? Amazing, inspiring, and I've spent most of my adult life trying to find that level of selflessness within myself.

I also did my first adult hospice visit this year - mostly elderly folks, but a lot of kids were there visiting terminally-ill parents, grandparents or aunts/uncles . In the last room I visited of the day, there was a terminally-ill women, her husband of 40+ years, and their 6-year-old grandson they raised since shortly after birth. This little boy was worried that his grandma wouldn't be home to make cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, so he saved the little cookies that came in his Lunchable the day before my visit so I wouldn't have to go without cookies, and then he said that all he wanted was for his grandma to feel better. You know when you see something so cute that it makes your eyes water? When you're Santa you learn to cover that up with a big belly-laugh.
(Full-disclosure: I sincerely thanked him and put the cookies in my belt pouch "for the flight home", but I did not eat the day-old pocket cookies.)

0utcazt2 karma

Why did you have to put "(a)" and ruin my child/adulthood? You mean there is more than 1????

ARightJollyOldElf10 karma

Santa is eternal in the hearts and minds of all who choose to be kind. He's the shimmer of magic that dusts every selfless deed. More than one man; Santa is the heartbeat of humanity.

(But mostly I wanted to fit into the title format of the subReddit.)

0utcazt5 karma

Whew. I was scared. Ok. I love you Santa! 😊

ARightJollyOldElf3 karma

Santa loves you, too!

I know this time of year can be exhausting - emotionally, physically, and financially. Take just a little bit of time to remind yourself that you're stronger than you're given credit for, more wonderful than you believe, and that you're worthy of all the good things that the universe flings your way. As important as it is to be kind to each other, we sometimes forget to be kind to ourselves.

smoothmann2 karma

You ever attend any Santa Cons? What's your take on Jon Oliver's segment from this year?

Happy New Year friend.

ARightJollyOldElf4 karma

Nah. I'm a strict teetotaler, and there's a very important distinction between "people in Santa costumes" and "people who portray Santa." SantaCon is (to my understanding) just a pub crawl where the drinkers slap on Santa costumes. I think Jon's either deliberately blurring that distinction for comedic effect, or else he (like a surprising portion of the general public) suspects that all there is to "playing" Santa is a $40 suit and a fake beard.

Portraying Santa relies on the content of your character and size of your heart, dressing like Santa just takes some red flannel and a plasticky beard.

(I have, however, attended Santa luncheons where a bunch of professional and volunteer Santas get together and work on improving their portrayal while eating cookies and finger sandwiches and drinking iced tea.)

Happy New Year! I hope it's kind to you.

Trevlick2 karma

Do you have any heartbreaking story’s from the children you interact with?

ARightJollyOldElf7 karma

More than a few, but they all hurt in different ways.Shelter visits are hard because I KNOW that most of the kids are scared, confused, and that whatever part of their family is intact has to start from scratch, but I know that if I don't see them next year, it's usually because things got better for them.Hospital visits are a mixed bag, because some kids are just in for poorly-timed minor conditions, like broken bones or sinus infections, and some of them are there getting ready to face a long battle with chronic or incurable illnesses, so there's good intermixed with the bad.It's the off-season palliative visits that break you a little more.

I'm going to leave out a LOT of info (including gender, age, and illness), just because I don't want to violate the privacy of people who've been dealt hardship, but this past August I got a call from my local hospital asking if I'd be able to do an at-home palliative visit that day (which is never a good sign) because a young school-age patient was worried they wouldn't be able to go see Santa that Christmas. Got suited up, glued on my beard, grabbed my sack of "emergency" toys and hopped in the hybrid to head 20 or so miles up the highway, and arrived 2 hours after the initial phone call.

Tapped on the door, was led to the sunroom by the kid's grandmother, and saw the kid sitting in a lounge chair hooked up to a few machines, looking tired but otherwise in good spirits. I said "I heard you were worried you wouldn't get to see me this year, so the elves asked me to make a special visit just to tell you how very good you've been." their face lights up, we spend the next little bit colouring and chatting about life at the North Pole, and then out of the blue the kid turns to me and says "I know I'm going to die, soon. It's okay.", I said "I know. You haven't spent many days on Earth, but every last one of them was spent being good, and that's more than any grown-up can say. Can I tell you a secret?" They nod. "You...are my number one elf." "Really?!" "Absolutely. And you always will be." "I love you, Santa!" "Santa loves you, too. And he's very proud of you. I've got a very special present for my number one elf, and I'd like you to have it, now." So I hand them one of the wooden cars I made, and unclip the 'magic' key from my belt, and give them that, too. They ask what the key is for, and I tell them it's the key to the most beautiful house in the whole North Pole, and that they'll know which house it is when they get there, and that it has everything they could ever dream of. "Thank you, Santa. I'm tired, now, but I'll come see you at the North Pole soon, okay?" "I know you will. Rest up. I'll see you soon."

They passed 2 days later. They're buried with that key. I hope they make it to the North Pole okay.

yoniyum3 karma

You are a really special person. <3

ARightJollyOldElf2 karma

Thanks for your love! Paediatric palliative is a whole other world, and I'm constantly awed and amazed by the strength and resilience shown by nurses, family, patients and caregivers in that field.

I only tackle it in 40-to-90 minute spurts and still usually wind up crying in the car once I'm back in my civilian clothes. If I had to go through it 8, 12, or 24 hours a day EVERY day like them, I'd have a breakdown.

Portraying Santa has helped me as much as it's helped others, because (like a lot of men) I've often had a hard time expressing or contending with emotions in healthy ways, and being Santa has taught me that; yeah, there are going to be times you have to put on a brave face and be tough, but you can always cry about it LATER, and that's okay, too.

hollymr2 karma

Gosh that's a really special thing to do for that child.

ARightJollyOldElf2 karma

It was just what came to me in the moment! I have a "Santa's Magic Key" that I keep on my belt (to show kids who ask how I visit them if they don't have a chimney), and I realized that they deserved it more than I did.

JustSomebodyNow1 karma

Which was the weirdest kid you ever met?

ARightJollyOldElf5 karma

I've made a habit of celebrating people for their differences rather than denigrating them for it, but the little girl who asked for a box of bugs and a ladder was was so wonderfully unique it was inspiring.

Smokemideryday1 karma

What do you do the rest of the year?

ARightJollyOldElf3 karma

For a living? I'm an entepreneur in the fine woodworking/manufacturing industry.

I try to keep my Santa life and my business life as far separated as possible, because I never want people to think I'm only volunteering as "free advertising" for my actual career.

I also do a lot of non-Santa volunteering (including working a crisis hotline, soup kitchen, and normal visits to shelters and hospices just to play board games with patients/guests), some community theatre, and take a lot of language and skills courses offered by my local library. (I spent 2019 learning ASL and Arabic to be able to better serve hearing-impaired children and newcomers who are Syrian refugees.)