I was once Santa Claus.
Obviously, not the Santa Claus, merely a Santa Claus. As we all know, the real Santa, Father Christmas, St. Nick, etc, is a kindly old Laplander with a booming laugh and a serious work ethic around this time of year.
It was this heavy diary commitment that meant the real chap was unavailable several Christmases ago, on the occasion of my employer's charitable foundation presentation evening. The foundation makes awards to the types of organisations that don't normally get recognised for funding, but for whom a few hundred pounds should make a real difference. Every so often, there's a presentation evening when the cheques get handed out, and in the event of this happening in December, Santa shows up to do some ho-ho-hoing and to dole out presents. Invariably, some of the charities will be for kids so it all goes down well with the audience.
Anyway, the real Santa was unable to make it in 2005, something to do with being a little behind with the performance reviews for the elves. Someone, however, donated a red suit, hat, false beard, etc. At this point in time, my body shape kind of fitted the template a little. And I've always been a little too keen to volunteer for things. So I got Santa'd up.
As it happens, it was great - I strode in, sack of goodies on my back and generally channelling Brian Blessed. This will sound a little schmaltzy, but the look on the young kids' faces was wonderful - delight, mixed with unshakeable belief. It was Miracle on 34th Street all over for me, and ever so slightly humbling.
Last year I was away on the night itself, so a colleague stepped in. Tom is a good few stones lighter than me and is quite possibly the poshest man in Christendom. But he stepped up to the mark, dressed in the (somewhat looser) costume and made his way into the room, sack of goodies over his shoulder.
Perhaps the organisers should have checked to see whether any kids were going to be there that year.
Tom found himself surrounded by somewhat bewildered 50- and 60-year olds, wondering quite why a skinny chap, with a cut-glass accent and wearing what looked like a red ridge tent, was trying to push boxes of chocolates on them.
Timing. That's the key.