Reporting On 'Santa' In A Small Town
An important note up top here: This article is for the grown-ups among us. If you are a kid and your mom has left her computer open and you saw the word “Santa” and your interest was piqued, I’d kindly ask you to step away.
Now that it’s just us elders —
I live in the kind of small Vermont town where Lifetime movies are set. It actually has a downtown diner everyone goes to and a small collection of restaurants. It even really has a town meeting hall. I’m sure many a high-powered attorney has found herself here by accident and learned a lesson about the meaning of life and love while stuck amid our picturesque, snowy landscapes, sipping hot chocolate in the town square (we have one of those, too).
One of our cuter traditions each year is when Santa comes to the aforementioned town meeting hall (which, by the way, is lined with portraits of Civil War veterans who you’ll sometimes feel are watching you as you walk around the room). That’s because we don’t have a mall anywhere nearby where we can visit Santa like in other towns. It’s also the source of what I would argue is some of the best Santa-related magic I’ve ever witnessed. That’s because the same exact Santa comes to our town meeting hall every year. And, his license plate says “SANTA,” which one kid recently told his mom must mean he’s actually the real deal.
Really, there are two Santas in our greater region — one for my town, one for the next town over. But, they stick to their town and, as a result, kids who grow up in these towns see the exact same Santa every year. He remembers their names, but more than that, there’s a continuity to him the way there can only be when you’re dealing with one singular person year after year. To our kids, that’s Santa.
My part of the small-town ecosystem is that I work as a reporter for our little, independently-owned newspaper (I’d make a good friend/sidekick for one of the Lifetime movies’ protagonists). In that role, I’ve more than once had to report on one of our two Santas. For that, I have some rules, because if there is one thing I love in life, it’s getting to experience magic while you’re still young enough for magic to really feel, well, magical. That’s what these two Santas are hell-bent on providing, and I’m not about to ruin it — certainly not in the name of news. So, here are a small-town reporter’s rules for the best practices when it comes to writing about Santa:
Never use his real name. Any pictures of Santa should be captioned as “Santa.”
If you are using his real name, never use Santa. Each of the men who play Santa in my town appear at other town events but not as Santa. In those contexts, I use their real names, obviously. And, I make no mention of Santa.
Don’t talk about where he lives, other than that he lives at the North Pole. Don’t get into logistics of how he got there, when, or why. He came from the North Pole.
If you have to report specifically about a real man and his work as Santa, find a crafty way to do it. A few years ago, one of our Santas was given an award for his Santa work. I downright refused to write about it in a way that was going to give something away to our young readers. I eventually got the wording right. If I’d been straight reporting the news, I would have said, “…was given an award for his work as Santa.” But, I refused. I got the paper’s editors to agree to “…for the work he does for children at Christmastime.”
To me, there’s something special about the idea of Santa during the time when kids believe in him. And, for me, it’s important to preserve the magic of this man’s role in the community. I don’t know which kids read the newspaper, and so I don’t take any chances. If anything, I use my platform as a way to help him spread his magic during what, especially in a picturesque little Vermont town, is a very special time of the year.