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LACK CHRISTMAS SPIRIT? PUT ON A SANTA SUIT

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It turns out there are three kinds of kids: Those who don't believe but want a candy cane; those who want to believe but know there's something wrong (How come I can see a dark mustache under the white one?), and those who really, truly believe.

The world looks different from inside a Santa suit.If you've never tried one on, make a note on your calendar for next year and do it. I waited until I was 38, years after I'd developed the voice and the figure for it.

Some part of me has been Santa all along, waiting to be set free.

Last year a friend asked me to return a Claus outfit to the costume-rental shop. It hung on a hanger in my office, beckoning. Impulsively I tried it on, gave a few fellow workers a surprise, then quickly took it off.

Same deal this year, only this time I roamed about the halls for a few minutes. Now I cling to the hope that the executive editor didn't recognize me.

Then came word that my kids' preschool needed a Santa to visit on the night of the holiday program. It was one of those moments when you either seize the opportunity or die a coward.

It was time to come out of the chimney.

Santa!

Children clung like barnacles as I made my way across the room. They swarmed me. I had to drag a few of them to my chair. Santa! Santa!

It turns out there are three kinds of kids: Those who don't believe but want a candy cane; those who want to believe but know there's something wrong (How come I can see a dark mustache under the white one?), and those who really, truly believe.

Type A smirks and says, "I want a million bucks."

Type B smiles and says, "I want a Sega Genesis."

Type C squeezes Santa hard and says, "I love you, Santa," exactly as if she means it.

I knew what to say to Types A and B: "I don't believe the elves are printing any money this year." And, "Sega Genesis? What a good little girl! That's a book in the Bible, isn't it?"

Type C took my breath away. She knew me. Every year, she sat on my lap, and every year I came to her house in the dead of night and left her a present. She had none of the older kids' doubts, and when I talked to her I had no doubts myself.

"That's the nicest thing Santa could hear! Santa loves you, too, and he's so proud of you! Look how you've grown, I almost didn't recognize you! Now tell me, have you given any thought to what you might like for Christmas this year?"

My friend Willard was saying the other day that he's having trouble catching the Christmas spirit. It seems the commercialism depresses him. My advice to him: Get yourself into a Santa suit.

Willard points out, correctly, that he is black.

So what? I had two mustaches and spoke, for some reason that I can't explain, with an Irish accent. It makes no difference to the kids. They are ready to make a leap of faith.

Santa should be above race; it would be good for kids to be confused about his color. 'Tis the season to be inclusive, and, incidentally, the best Santa I've ever seen is Jewish.

This privilege has been reserved to white males for too long. Next year, whatever your race or gender, try on a suit. Practice shaking like a bowl full of jelly. (Some of us are better at this than others.)

See if you can fool your kids; I fooled mine. If they ask, though, I'll have to say this article is about Bosnia.

Bosnia's a mess.

Santa never lies.