Christmas used to be a happy time in the elementary classroom; making red and green paper chains, cards, displays, drawings( white chalk on green or red paper) etc. in response to that now forbidden religious holiday currently called Winter Break. Time spent on these now “off task” activities didn’t seem to affect the test results of the involved students unlike what experts believe today. Or is it that everyone could have been a whole lot smarter if these students hadn’t ever had time for fun in the classroom?
It was a tradition in many small districts in that era that Santa would visit the classes at most elementary schools and wish everyone a Merry Christmas on the afternoon before Christmas break started. In retrospect that might have played in part in me getting the teaching job in the first place. Because I was the only male teacher other than the gym teacher and I was considerably more Santa sized than he was. I got the “opportunity” at the principal’s direction, to visit everyone’s classroom dressed in a cheesy cheap Santa outfit that apparently was stored near the boiler room as it smelled pretty strongly of mothballs with a faint note of smoke accented with a hint of bleach. The odors were quite understandable as the moth balls were needed to control the roaches and moths, the bleach was part of the chlorination system which consisted of a bottle of Clorox drip fed into the water lines and the locker room was so to speak, ” really smokin” most of the time. The suit was red dyed wool and would have made the cheapest of “army” blankets look robust by comparison. It was so flimsy that apparently washing it was out of the question as that had obviously never been done.
It was indicated to me by other teachers that the previous Santa was a high school teacher who had been coerced into the job , probably due to some previous indiscretion, Apparently the old Santa had gotten into a conversation with a 1st grader the previous year in which the student asked Santa why his shoes were brown instead of black and the high school teacher playing Santa was reported to have said, “Kid if you were around reindeer as much as I am your shoes would be brown too.” So I became the new Santa apparently replacing the, “Bad Santa.”
It was generally an easy gig, but one interesting incident in the Santa playing role occurred in the classroom of a “Normal” teacher. Normal teachers were teachers who had a two year degree from the Iowa Teachers College now known as the University of Northern Iowa. Many of them had started in one room school houses at the age of 18 as their own boss teaching multi-grade classrooms with little or no support and for even less money. The ones I have known were good, hard-working generally very honest teachers who blended an edgy depression-era toughness with love as was needed to reach and teach their students. This particular day however as I entered this normal teacher’s 2nd grade classroom dressed as Santa one of her students ran up and punched me right in the pillow. I don’t know why, it was unlikely given the times that he was making a religious statement and I never found out the reason, although I have wondered if perhaps my doppelgänger had disappointed the child on the previous Christmas. Whatever the cause the kid’s classroom teacher was at first startled but then started in on the kid like a rabid lobo wolf on an injured moose. Before she was done I noticed that the kids clothes no longer fit as he had shrunk several sizes inside of them, I was pretty uncomfortable just watching her performance but totally in awe at her use of voice and command and choice of words.
When she was done and I left the unnaturally silent room I am sure that the kid who had punched Santa was pretty sure that Santa wasn’t coming to his house that year or for several years thereafter.