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An extract from Christmas Tales by William McInnes.

Sometimes a man can don the red suit because of a bet.

Like me. I worked my way up to actually being a store Santa after the sort of bet that unemployed actors tend to make to get through the day, or at the very least breakfast. Over a liquid breakfast a housemate came up with a challenge of who could get a job the fastest. A carton of beer was at stake and so we went through the ‘positions vacant’ in the job section in the morning papers. He flicked through the Sydney Morning Herald and I perused the Daily Telegraph. Sifting through the entries I came up with a nugget of gold, a Santa Claus. It turned out to be fool’s gold.

I made a call, got an interview and, being the only interviewee, was awarded the position. I was given a Santa manual from the store which informed me that under no circumstance was I to mention politics or religion. ‘Remember, it is Christmas and we don’t want to upset anybody. No politics.’ Obviously, Langton Grayson hadn’t gotten this manual.

The idea, though, of removing religion from Christmas was slightly interesting, given the nature of the whole festive season and the day itself. It was best to equate the idea of Christ’s birth coinciding with a shopping season as just one of the quirks of life, a coincidence that really wasn’t worth a mention or dwelling on. Instead, the Santa manual advised that if a situation arose where a religious matter might have been brought up, it was wise to talk about the ‘weather’. The manual also stipulated that Santa wasn’t to eat spicy or smelly food, should never chew gum, should know the names of his reindeers and on no account should ever drink alcohol and ho, ho, ho at the same time.

The manual didn’t say anything about getting stoned, which was what happened when my housemate who lost the bet had visited me, wanting to see if I really did have a job. He brought some guy he had met in a pub who looked like he had just stepped out of a Viking raiding party en route to a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne. My housemate also had with him a fair supply of his recreational weed and he insisted that I share a celebratory smoke in the carpark.

That would have been okay, but he and his Viking friend bogarted all of it. They had obviously been celebrating a lot that day and were so enjoying their trip to Santa’s kingdom in the department store that they decided to set up camp near Santa’s throne. My pal soon fell asleep but the Viking started growling things like ‘You are Santa’ and ‘I believe in you’ and singing some weird conglomeration of Christmas carols and the most awful glam pop. In between professing I was the one true Santa, he’d be singing a mixture of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ and ‘Girls on Film’ by Duran Duran until, mercifully, he also fell asleep.

The other visitor I had was the lovely woman I had started seeing and who was to become my wife. She popped in unannounced and gave me a shy little wave as she wandered over towards me. I thought I’d meet her halfway and promptly ran to her ‘Ho, ho, hoing’. She in turn took off and I followed. When she was asked by store security if she was being bothered by the Santa, she said yes. 

Obviously, this store had issues with its Santas and I was targeted as the latest rogue Kringle and was frogmarched by security to a small room out the back and locked in there until an admin person came in to interview me about the ‘incident’. It was like being in a bad TV police show, especially when I was told not to take off my beard and not to touch anything and keep my hands where they could be seen.

It was worked out in the end but my Santa days were numbered and seeing as how I had already won the carton of beer there didn’t seem to be much point in going back. Especially after I got a part in the perennially popular television show A Country Practice as a palaeontologist who was excavating some dinosaur remains in Wandin Valley, as one does, and proceeded to fall in love and marry a ranger, a regular cast member on the show who wanted to leave.I was quite lamentably woeful and me and my housemates sat in the Paddington RSL watching my final episode of A Country Practice on the big screen, with me squeezed into a
sky-blue suit with a frilled collar and flared pants on top of some piece of rock in Sydney pretending to get married to a ranger from Wandin Valley.

She was very pleasant but had an incredible amount of gyp in her hair. Gyp was a type of filler for floral bouquets and in the nineties it somehow became the go-to product for formal hair occasions. In fact, she was festooned in this odd mixture of snowf lakes and giant dandruff that had a hint of an overblown Christmas decoration. I repeated some vows which were asked of me by a pretend celebrant who, before the take, was having a cup of coffee and chatting happily about her Socialist Party meeting in Redfern the night before.

We drank our beers in silence and as I seriously debated internally whether there was any future in acting, my housemate said slowly, ‘Just think: you gave up Santa for that.’

Christmas Tales by William McInnes is out now.

  • Christmas Tales - William McInnes

    'Tis the season to be jolly! One of Australia's favourite storytellers is back with a collection of stories about everyone's favourite family holiday.

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