I never imagined I’d be scouring the internet in search of a Santa Claus costume. Then again, I never imagined having a son.

Well, I’ve got one now. A son, not a Santa costume. And he is singlehandedly, without a doubt, hands down, the cutest flippin’ baby who ever drew a breath, and if you dispute me on that score, I’m throwing down the gauntlet and you and I are engaging in gladiator-style fisticuffs that only end in submission or death.

Whoa. I think some weird paternal instinct just kicked in.

Anyway, yeah, he’s got limbs and a head and everything. I tend to only mention family stuff in the most abstract terms, and only then to illustrate a larger point, ’cause this isn’t a diary and nobody cares about my Aunt Mildred’s debilitating addiction to horse tranquilizers. Full disclosure: There is no Aunt Mildred.

Having a son, though, means humiliating myself for the sake of his enjoyment, and that’s where the Santa getup comes in. I knew months ago, when I first held him in my arms, that I’d be one of those corny dads who dresses up like St. Nick every Christmas, until the boy stops believing or until I regain some semblance of self-respect. That’s why I’ve just spent an hour online trying to track down a beard that doesn’t scratch, a pair of red pants that won’t tear at the crotch, and a fake belly that shakes like a bowlful of jelly.

Keep in mind I’m doing this for a person who smiles and giggles while peeing on his Dumbo lamp.

Faking the existence of a big bearded elf isn’t exactly a new trick in a parent’s repertoire. My own parents would leave out milk and cookies on Christmas Eve and, in classic fashion, my father would wait until I went to bed and take a big bite of one. I never thought to ask why Santa would only take a single bite of a cookie, but in a way I’m glad it never came up. My parents’ explanations for these things tended toward the bizarre. When I asked how Santa got into the house despite our lack of a fireplace, my mother replied that he simply liquified himself and slipped into the house through the plumbing in the basement. That made the Chris Kringle of my imagination a weird cross between a jolly demigod and a shape-shifting swamp creature. I’ll admit it was a creative response. I appreciated it, sort of. I think.

Actually dressing up as Santa is the next, and last, logical step. And I have to do it now. By next Christmas my son may be smart enough to tell that it’s just daddy playing make-believe; this year he might still be fooled. He probably won’t form a permanent memory of his first face-to-face with Santa, but I can at least provide a little temporary magic for him. Besides, there’s bound to be a ton of pictures, and years from now we can show them to him as a reminder that daddy was once willing to suit up like a total ass.

Which isn’t as easy as you’d think. The problem with Santa suits, I’ve come to find, is that there isn’t much middle ground. Judging from online reviews, the cheap costumes last about as long as a Taylor Swift song before they evaporate like the sweat on a beer coaster. Meanwhile, the higher-end getups are just way too expensive, commanding prices I could only afford if I started a drug cartel specializing in the distribution of black tar heroin.

And look, nothing against mall Santas, but I was kinda hoping to snag something with a little more pizazz than your average Yuletide freelancer. I’ve seen a couple of mall Santas with quality duds — a fellow with a genuine white beard made quite the impression on me when I was 6 — but they’re generally the exception. Most of these “Santa’s helpers” wear clothes that look like they were salvaged from an attic fire. I don’t know if the malls provide these suits or if the actors have to buy them themselves, but someone should inform the powers that be that Father Christmas is meant to evoke merriment, not concern about his lax laundry routine.

There are also a lot of decisions I have to make about the little bells and whistles. Your basic Santa suit has certain ingredients that don’t change — red hat, coat and pants, white beard, black boots — but the smaller details and accouterments are largely a matter of taste. Green mittens or white gloves? Holly on the hat, or no holly? How red should the cheeks be? There are almost too many interpretations from which to choose. I could go with the polished Classic Coke take, the regal “Polar Express” interpretation or whatever the hell Billy Bob Thornton was doing in “Bad Santa.” It would be easier to design a robot for SpaceX than to pick a final look for this thing.

But pick one I will, ’cause a little guy’s first Christmas experience is riding on it. You know it’s funny, sometimes people give me grief for romanticizing my own childhood. But in a way, maintaining that connection to the boy of yesteryear has been good preparation for connecting to the boy of right now. I remember Christmas as a time of impossible magic and moments of joy so perfectly tuned it hurt. Gifted with a long memory, I remember what made it that way. With a chance now to re-live that time of life through someone else’s eyes, I can think of no better way to revive those old feelings than by inspiring them in someone else — someone so wide-eyed and fresh that his joy will be unencumbered by the cynicism of later life. I don’t want my son’s Christmases to be as good as mine. I want them to be better. Because I love him. That’s what the holidays are all about.

Well, that and fake Santa tummies. But one thing at a time.

— Jeff Lagasse is an editor at a Portland media company and wannabe North Pole toy peddler. Oh, and his son’s name is Gideon, in case you were wondering. Send them both some holiday wishes at [email protected]

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