Jack Martin is probably the most famous Santa from Athens. I heard many
wonderful stories of Jack, but I never met him.
Another Santa is etched in my old Athens mind. As an impressionable college graduate, I was once treated to the most endearing sight of many holiday seasons. While visiting friends and their parents on Christmas Eve, a fully grown neighbor, dressed in ill-fitting red and wearing a polyester beard and a wig two sizes too small, came knocking on the back door and entered without permission. Now just about everyone is happy on the night before we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but this Not-Macy’s-Worthy Santa was going to make sure that each smile got just a bit bigger.
Big Terry Wingfield ended up making his annual Christmas journey for a number of years. Adults and teens all giggled, the young women invited to sit on his lap offered not a hint of protest, and the children, the children were beside themselves seeing the real Santa on his way around the globe. Terry would visit homes of friends and neighbors for hours on Christmas Eve, spreading wisecracks and promising ponies. I imagine he was a total surprise at many of his stops, but I also
imagine he barged right in. No getup is as likely to find an open door and warm hearth as a six-foot elf with added padding and twinkling blue eyes.
He brought no gifts and asked for no cookies. But the magic of Christmas surrounded our Athens hero like smoke from the fire. His good nature and rapid banter were just so comforting. Years later, in another state, I asked my wife
if I could play Santa like Terry Wingfield had done in Athens. She returned within hours with a corduroy Santa suit and a wig and beard so significant they included hair nets for storage. I played Santa to the children of friends in New Jersey for about four years and re-learned the most basic of Christmas platitudes:
It is better to give than to receive.
I learned that walking into a child’s home and telling her she’s been good and watching her eyes become as large as the moon is one of the most enjoyable experiences a man can give himself. My Santa was okay, I guess.
Getting allowed in the second Christmas is maybe the proof of some passing grade. And I learned almost immediately that Big Terry had been keeping a secret from his friends in Athens. He wasn’t dressing in red and applying rouge to just brighten the season for kids and their parents. Terry was giving himself a Christmas present no cobbler, club-maker, vintner or tailor could touch. He got to see Christmas through the eyes of children.
Thanks Terry, you’re a wise, wise man.