What’s it like portraying Santa Claus? LARA PICKFORD-GORDON sat down with a familiar face about the spiritual side of playing ‘St Nick’.
As a Christian, permanent deacon Rev Derek Walcott, ‘Uncle Derek’ as he is called by children, has been spreading the message of God’s love.
For the past 39 years, he has also been doing this as Santa Claus.
Deacon Walcott spoke to the Catholic News December 11 about the joy of portraying this popular Christmas figure and the deeper meaning he conveys to the children with whom he interacts.
A member of the Living Water Community (LWC) he said he was invited by Rhonda Maingot, co-foundress of the community to a Christmas party for underprivileged children. This was the first time he donned a Santa suit. He is amused recalling he was “the skinniest Santa” ever seen.
Deacon Walcott has been Santa Claus at schools, especially pre-schools and at functions for children.
He thoroughly enjoys the role and sees it as keeping the “amazing imagination” of children alive “and the gift of believing in something great”. While Santa Claus has been dismissed by some as fiction, Deacon Walcott teaches about the origin of the Santa Claus character—St Nicholas, and more.
“His whole thing of bringing joy and gifts to children, and I look at the whole season of Christmas and the giving of gifts. The first gift to us was Jesus to the world,” Deacon Walcott said. The Three Wise Men brought gifts to the Christ child on His birthday, and this is symbolised today with the sharing of gifts by family and friends.
Deacon Walcott gives traditional Christmas songs a local slant. He sang ‘Trini Jingle Bells’ for children: “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way; Oh, what fun it is to ride on a maxi to Maracas Bay (repeat); With pelau in the pot, pigtail down below, lettuce and tomato, we don’t have far to go; Parang songs playing, it sounding alright; Oh, what fun we will have playing All Fours tonight”.
For the adults in the audience, he encouraged them to sing the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’. He sang a few lines again, “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a boiled ham in pitch oil pan; On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two pastelles and a boiled ham in a pitch oil pan…” Deacon Walcott said, “I would bring in sorrel and ginger beer to make it very local”.
When he sang ‘Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town’ the message to the children is they should always try to be good.
Deacon Walcott said the main emphasis of Christmas should not be about getting presents and the material things but “about family…Jesus, taking care of others”.
When he blessed a crèche was also a teachable moment for children. He drew attention to Jesus’ humble beginning in the location of His birth. He refers to Luke’s gospel on the Nativity.
He would ask why there was no room for Jesus at the inn? Deacon Walcott said, “because He was poor. His father Joseph did not have a VISA card, so I bring it into modern life”. He wanted the underprivileged to know that Jesus came for them.
Santa with mange
Deacon Walcott said the portrayal of Santa Claus is all about love. From the start, he made it clear that he did not want to just be handing out gifts in a hurried, robotic manner, “you hand them a gift, give me the next child”. Deacon Walcott said meeting Santa was a magical moment for the child.
“They were meeting Santa Claus, and why should we hurry that moment? It should be about love and care that somebody loves them; that was more important for me. That moment spending that time with the children.”
Deacon Walcott has accumulated many memories from his Santa Claus days. One that easily came to mind was the time his beard could not be found. The event was at Wildflower Park and the children were waiting.
Since there was no place to get a beard an improvised one was made with cottonwool. It was stuck to his face with petroleum jelly. A bad idea in the tropics!
“It looked like Santa Claus with mange! The cotton wool started to fall off my face,” he said smiling broadly at the memory.
Another time, his pants almost fell down as he was being chased by children.
“All of these things were so wonderful,” Deacon Walcott said with satisfaction