Clad in the familiar red, fur-trimmed suit, eyes twinkling, and with a merry “Ho, ho, ho,” one of Santa’s dedicated executive assistants shares the magic of Christmas.
Sixty-year-old Gordon Allen, aka Santa EA, (executive assistant) first donned the red suit 30 years ago when his own children were young.
“The look in their eyes when they see Santa – it’s magical,” he says. “It’s not like the love you see from a spouse or lover; it’s another dimension, and the kids can help take you there.”
In his third season at West Edmonton Mall, Allen says that while he welcomes children’s Christmas requests, he always reminds them of the importance of love.
Love, too, was instrumental in a project that began with one letter from Santa eight years ago and has swelled to well over 100 every year.
“I had a cousin who had a little one with a very rare skin disease,” says Allen quietly, noting the child died, something that sprouted the idea that children who are ill should receive special letters from Santa.
“Through her, I got the first few children and then I decided to write to my own grandchildren too.”
In the first year, 10 letters were sent. On Dec. 11, Allen was ready to mail the 104th letter of the season – 18 of them to children at Ronald Mcdonald House of Northern Alberta.
Letters always begin by welcoming kids as Santa’s special children and continue yearly until the youngest child in the family turns 10.
“When the parents read the letters, they have a history of that child’s life through the eyes of Santa,” he says, noting how he confers with North Pole personnel (sometimes with the help of parents, grandparents or guardians) to find out what special events the children have experienced during the year.
“Mama Claus and the elves are very much a part of the letters too,” Allen says. “Silly stuff to make the children feel important, silly stuff to let them know they are stars.”
If there are siblings at home, they get a special paragraph even if they’re teens. Letters to a newborn are really for the parents to understand the sense of what the letters are going to be like over the years, he says.
“The second to last paragraph is a very important paragraph as it is one that stresses to all the children that it’s not just about giving gifts, it’s a reminder that they’re to give love to mom and dad, or whoever is caring for them, every night.”
While most of the recipients are healthy and he rarely meets them, there are those who touch his heart.
“We lost Connor this year; he had a very bad heart and we knew he wouldn’t live long – it hit me pretty hard.”
Allen had never met Connor but had seen the young poster child for Roger’s House in Ottawa, a pediatric palliative care facility. Following Connor’s death, “Santa” sent the grieving parents a photo of their son sitting on his knee, courtesy of a friend’s magical Photoshop abilities.
The letter explained how the North Pole was short-handed and a laughing and joking Connor had been sent on loan from heaven.
Allen says he heard the family was grateful for the photo and letter.
With the annual writing campaign underway in October, Santa’s letters go across the globe to places like Malaysia, Scotland, Africa and more.
Back home on Dec. 23, Allen is delighted that Santa EA visits Blind Bay and Shuswap Lake Estates on Christmas Eve.
There’s more to Allen’s affection for Christmas than a resemblance to the man in red. It’s a matter of history and the possibilities love can inspire.
“Arguably the two worst of times in history were the first and second world wars,” he says, pointing out he has spoken with veterans who described how raging battles ceased for one day of peace at Christmas. “They would actually trade sausages for chickens. Then the next day, they’d be back to the business of killing.”
Retired to the South Shuswap after a 27-year career with the Toronto Police Force, Allen is a member of Daybreak Rotary.
When he is not helping Santa, he writes novels for children.
Celesta’s Magical Journey, about a mermaid who meets Santa Claus, is available at Hidden Gems on Alexander Street or Bookingham Palace at the Mall at Piccadilly.
Visit www.aspirebooks.ca to learn more about the book and its availability online. Two dollars from the sale of each book goes to Ronald Mcdonald House.