by Dan Robinson
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.” When Francis P. Church wrote those words in 1897 he changed the world. Church, a war-hardened reporter, self-avowed atheist, and a man known to be impeccably honest, examined his conscience and affirmed to children that Santa Claus was indeed alive and well and worthy of their belief. The editorial was run in the New York Post as a publicity stunt by the newspapers editors to gain readers but little did they know the magnitude of this far-reaching editorial. As a matter of fact, the ‘Virginia’ editorial is the most read editorial ever published in a newspaper and is still run every year in hundreds of newspapers around the world. But this short work of literary history is more than a heartwarming message to a child; it is a reminder for all us of something greater.
In the latter half of the 20th Century, Bil Keane, best known for the Family Circus cartoons, said, “God put Santa Claus on earth to remind us that Christmas is supposed to be a happy time.” One thing that is abundantly clear is that human beings need reminding that the gift of Christmas is supposed to be a time of great joy and happiness. For many of us, the taking down of the Christmas decorations signals an end to the Christmas season. Coldness, darkness, and grouchiness set in and we forget about Christmas joy until the next year.
God put Santa Claus on earth to remind us that the greatest joy that we could ever know, the birth of Jesus Christ, was a reason to celebrate and be happy. But because we are flawed and forgetful people, God also sent us helpers to remind us of that joy and happiness. For most of the year, these helpers look like you and me. But at some point during the year, they begin to change. SFor example, sometime around July the beard of mild-mannered Tim Timko starts to grow…and grow…and…Seriously!...grow. (Notice that I mentioned the beard and NOT the “bowl full of jelly!”) And, sooner or later, we have a living, breathing Santa Claus in our parish. In service to the parish and community, Tim Timko has taken up the mantle of Santa Claus. Ever on the lookout for cookies and milk, Timothy Claus has also enlisted the aid of his lovely wife Mrs. Claus (aka-Carol Timko) to spread joy and happiness wherever they can. This is their ministry.
Somewhere around 2012, Tim decided that God had given him “that” body shape for a reason and he should heed the call. After much discussion, Tim and Carol went to a costume shop and purchased costumes that, while “ok”, were just not what they were looking for in the long term. Tim affectionately calls this furry, bright red costume his “muppet” suit. But “when God calls he will provide” and soon Maureen Scott (Sexton) was cutting, sewing, measuring, and altering. The result is a beautiful, old-world, Santa costume, handmade and worthy of the pride of both the seamstress and Santa. Burgundy in color and with a longer coat, real leather boots, a wide leather belt, and a long burgundy hat complete the outfit. From the very first time Tim tried on the clothes, he has repeatedly said, “I feel like Santa Claus.”
The original Mrs. Claus costume was not Carol’s favorite because it is adorned with her least favorite flower, the poinsettia, and the whole costume looks like a flannel nightgown. Luckily, her granddaughter Alexa has another grandmother (Judy Szykulski) that is also an excellent seamstress. After finding material to match Tim’s custom suit, Judy outfitted Carol with a beautiful burgundy dress complete with a plaid apron and matching mob-cap hat. The overall effect of the two outfits is astounding. Certainly, some of the appeal to children and adults is the striking realism that the beautiful costumes bring to their ministry.
Santa and Mrs. Claus never lack for helpers. In years past, granddaughter Alexa has dressed up as an elf to help deliver goodwill and cheer…and, of course, presents. This year, daughter Emily joined Santa and Mrs. Claus as the “head elf.” No matter where Tim and Carol go, someone is always willing to pitch in and help. Over the years, Tim and Carol have visited as Santa and Mrs. Claus in places like, Stadium Elementary in Boardman, The Polar Express in downtown Warren, The Ohio Valley College of Technology in Calcutta, and The Ohio State Highway Patrol Breakfast with Santa, plus private home visits all over Eastern Ohio. Santa has given away brides at weddings, taken part in wedding receptions, attended Christmas Rock Concerts in Columbiana, craft shows in Windsor, and ‘arrived’ in Painesville for a photo shoot.
The moment that sticks in both Santa and Mrs. Claus’s minds when asked about their most inspirational event and, coincidentally, the one that brings a tear of absolute joy to their eyes, is East Cleveland. Every year the special day spent with the East Cleveland police department handing out gifts is the most emotionally draining day imaginable but also an incredibly spiritually fulfilling day.
Carol says, “For the past two years, we have gone to East Cleveland to hand out gifts before Christmas. We go house to house with the East Cleveland Police Department. The children are picked by the Resource officers at school. They know what students are in need. The parents are given a form to fill out with a wish list for each of their children. The items are put on giving trees and the gifts are bought and wrapped. Then a day is picked, the officers call to make sure the children are home, and we go deliver. If the children are not home, we do not leave the gifts. We either come back later that day or the officers arrange to deliver the gifts. If neighbors come out while we are at a house, we find out how many children, age, male or female, and they are given gifts also. We have even given out comforters and sheet sets for beds, as well as Christmas trees and decorations, which are set up before we leave that house. All the children, no matter what age, get a stuffed animal or two. Some are huge animals that are bigger than the children. We have given out over 1,100 gifts each year.
Most of the places we go, we really do not have to prepare mentally because it is a happy time everywhere. East Cleveland is the exception. We see the conditions that these families live in: broken windows, blankets on doorways, heating the home by cook stove or with hot water is just heartbreaking. Children crying when you hand them gifts, parents crying and hugging you, because they can’t thank you enough. Telling us because of us, their children will have a great Christmas. The gifts we hand out are the only gifts the children will get that year. It is so hard to describe the feelings we have while doing this. Sometimes you just want to cry but you have to put a smile on your face and be happy.”
Not all stories are as emotionally draining as the above. Spreading joy and happiness is the norm, not the exception. For example, Tim and Carol have dressed up for Halloween twice as Mr. & Mrs. Claus and handed out candy canes for trick-or-treat. The first year, a little boy came over and gave them both hugs. He turned to his mom and said, “They even smell like cookies!” !” It was actually the Bailey’s Irish Cream in their coffee (for medicinal purposes, naturally.) The following year, a police car stopped as they were passing out treats and asked if he could take a selfie with Santa!
Come Christmas Day, though, Santa is ready to shorten the beard and put away the outfit until next year. The lazy, quiet days of January are a welcome respite. After the Christmas decorations are packed away, the cookies are no longer calorie free, and there is the odd minute to put their feet up, they get reminders of the fulfilling work that is still to come. On a warm August day, a jolly, bearded, fat man in a funny automotive racing t-shirt and dirty jeans gives a deep, jolly laugh. As his belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly, children, young and old, snap to attention and remember the promise of Christmas joy. Even without the costumes, cookies, or reindeer, the ministry continues. The peace and happiness of Jesus’ birthday is remembered. Peace, love, and innocence still prevail.
Volume 2015, Issue 1
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