Dad in his mid-40s. Photo courtesy of Coleman Communications / Michael P Coleman

Becoming Santa Claus

By Michael P Coleman

When I was a kid, I spent more than a few evenings, just before bedtime and down on my knees no less, praying that if I had to get older, that I’d do so like my dad did. Very specifically, I wanted to go gray like my dad did.

In my earliest memory of Charles Franklin Coleman, he was in his mid-30s without a speck of gray in his hair or mustache, but temples that were snow white. He never grew a beard, so I never got to see that, but those white temples against his light brown skin were striking. Every woman on Thomas Circle, the street I grew up on in metro Detroit, noticed them and him, much to the chagrin of my mother, as I recall. Many of the guys did, too.

But that was their problem, longing for or lusting after a married man. Mine was making sure that God heard my prayers. I wanted those white temples. So when my own hair started to gray, in my early 40s, I was pretty happy…well, as happy as a man can be when he’s in he realizes that the clock is ticking, faster than he wants it to.

Unlike my dad, I sported a full beard, during at least a small part of the year, and that beard started to grow gray, too. My favorite uncle and youngest brother of my mom, Nelson Frederick (we called him Fried), was the inspiration for that. And like Uncle Fred’s beard, mine had begun to grow gray in patches. At one point, neither my mustache nor my beard had a fleck of gray on the left side of my head, but was about half and half on the right. I looked like I had mange. I was pretty self-conscious about it, and for a few years, I covered the gray up. Thank you, Just For Men.

But after the melanin started to leave the left side of my face, too, I was more than happy to let nature take its course, especially since that simply reinforced the story I’d raised my girls with: their dad, you see, actually was Santa Claus. To this day, every year, I always stop shaving just after Halloween, so that my beard is at least close to its full glory by the time I have to load up the sleigh and pull an all nighter on Christmas Eve. (This year, an unexpected, high profile series of Zooms and webinars in mid November called for me to trim the facial forest just before Thanksgiving.

But never, when I prayed that white whiskers prayer as a kid, did I envision my beard bringing me the joy they brought me over the last couple of days, in the days and hours rolling up to Christmas.

Before I get into that, know that it’s not just the beard at Christmas time. I do that hat, too. I have several of them, in fact, which I sport along with a couple of pairs of the most Christmas-y Crocs and yuletide readers you’ll ever see. Years ago, now, I almost gave a kid in Target a heart attack, just a week or so before Christmas…and that was back when the beard was still mostly black!

Last weekend, a 6-ish-year-old kid stared me down, with wide-eyed wonder, as we walked through the Galleria in Roseville. As my legs were a bit longer than his, I quickly overtook him somewhere between Hot Topic and the food court, just as he yanked on the cuff of his mom’s sensible jacket and asked “Do you know WHO THAT IS?” As his mother stammered to answer him, my belly shook, as I laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

Me in Modesto, December 22, 2023. Photo courtesy of Coleman Communications / Michael P Coleman.

Then, the very next day, as I hopped out of my car and dashed into the post office, a guy in his thirties looked at me and exclaimed “Wow! It’s Black Santa!”

I pivoted, looked at him and said “No, son, not ‘Black Santa.’ I’m SANTA!”

“Alright, now,” the guy said. “I want a Ferrari under my tree this Christmas!”

“A Ferrari,” I replied. “Have you been that good this year, young man?”

“Imma let you find out for yourself,” he retorted.

Who knew that a cheap Santa hat and a beard could be a pick-up device? The guy had a great smile and was certainly in the spirit, so I hope he got his Ferrari.

December 24, 2023. The calm before the storm. Photo courtesy of Coleman Communications / Michael P Coleman

Through the season, nothing gives me more joy that running errands, shopping, and sitting in coffee shops, giving people just a small but tangible glimpse of what St. Nick might look like, if they were to ever catch a glimpse of him on Christmas Eve. I even use the season as an excuse to have an extra piece of fried chicken from Popeyes or a cranberry bliss bar from Starbucks in the weeks leading up to the holiday, just to make sure that I look the part.

Again, it’s a tradition that dates back to my girls being tiny little things. They really believed their dad was Santa Claus, and our family continues the tradition, even today. You should have been there just a few years ago, when I announced that I didn’t think I was going to grow the beard that fall. I almost started World War III in our house, just as I put my Magic Shaving Cream away for the season.

If I could have stopped time when I was caught up in trying to make my girls’ Christmas dreams come true, I would have. They’re both grown now, with lives of their own. I only got to see one of them in person this year, the other on FaceTime. If I meditate on that for too long, I get a little wistful. Father Time doesn’t wait, does he?

Father Christmas, on the other hand, always has a lot of the world waiting for him. He is always right there where your wish leaves off. All you have to do is believe.

And if you do, maybe that Ferrari-sized gift you want will be waiting for you, at the foot of a beautifully-lit tree. I hope yours was. If it wasn’t, you have a full year to work on getting on that “nice” list.

And if you see me out and about next year, say something nice. Some have entertained Santas unawares.

Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays.

Connect with freelance content creator Michael P Coleman at

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