Posted by: Nazausgraben | December 23, 2020


It was a lifetime ago that I recall seeing something on television…a so-called ‘public service announcement’ that I have in all the decades since have never forgotten. It left an indelible and moving impression, attesting to the success of its means of delivering a message so simple, so obvious, so important. The mists of memory may have, during the very many years gone by since I saw this broadcast, somewhat dimmed and I may have filled some gaps in my mind’s eye and ear with perception not associated with what I had actually seen. I have long sought this public service announcement via various archival video sources, but despite my best efforts, sadly to no avail. It is with this in mind that I herein will attempt to replay, in words and (admittedly) with some creative embellishment, this Christmas message that has stayed with me now for so very long.


There was a rather majestic throne; a massive wooden faux Biedermeier chair sporting bulbous hand-carved arms and legs, upholstered with a deep red also faux satin with golden tasseled borders pillowed seat and back. This elegant piece from someone’s grandmother’s attic was surrounded by what must have been a ton of Styrofoam and cotton wad snow, billowing from a hard wooden floor and anything but froze. Two lines massive candy canes seemed to emanate from the back of the throne, forming a large half-circle bounding the snowy area forming a majestic amphitheater or piazza of sorts. One could be forgiven for thinking that the person who designed this area was inspired by the grand arching arms encompassing St. Peter’s Square in Rome. One certainly had that feeling when entering this cordoned-off section of the store’s toy section. Scattered about and half submerged in the snow were large boxes of all sizes and shapes, perfectly packaged and ribboned to look like Christmas presents. And there, sitting on Grandma’s old chair amidst this remarkable scene was Charlie.

Charlie Bell, 70 but in visage and gait going on 85, a face lined and wearied from a lifetime of hard luck and unfulfilled dreams but punctuated by fleeting moments of great joy, a face now partially covered by a finely manicured false white moustache and beard. His hair thinned with time was now bedecked with a flowing white wig that covered his head and ears. It, in turn, sported an elegant red pointed cap. Where it sat on Charlie’s head, the cap had a wide band of white fur. Most of the cap not in contact with Charlie’s head was weighted down by a large thick white pommel that caused the peak of the cap to bend bent over and collapse to the side to the level of Charlie’s right shoulder.

The rest of Charlie was covered in a rather magnificent red suit, with white trim, big black buttons and, at his corpulent waist, a thick black belt. It all was very convincing indeed, and one would never have known that the thick protruding belly which was even more pronounced when sitting did not belong to Charlie; rather the overly stuffed pillows gartered in place belied Charlie’s seemingly aged and somewhat fragile frame. Where exercised muscles had once proclaimed an attractive dash, there was now but a remnant of a modestly fed form. The red trousers ending in tall black plastic boots hid the thin legs that took Charlie back and forth to this Toy department each icy city December day from 1-6pm.

At his hiring interview back in November, the Human Resources Manager had asked Charlie why he wanted to be the store Santa. His smile was strong as he answered that he loved children and, as his own children were now grown, having successful careers and living with their own families in other states, it was especially at Christmas that Charlie wanted to bring some joy to the little ones who might come to the store seeking Santa with their lists of Christmas wishes. No, although he had no previous experience doing this, all of his friends kept telling him that he would be the perfect Santa ; that the kind, jolly, gregarious and sensitive demeanor which so defined Charlie’s character would proves to be perfect qualities especially now at this most joyous time of the year.

So it was on this Christmas Eve that Charlie made the long walk between his small one-room efficiency on West 86th Street to this turn of the century, Christmas light bedecked concrete shopping paradise. This was the final time he would do so, and as he quickly glanced at the nearby clock on the wall, he saw that there was but a few minutes left. In many ways he regretted this as he really did enjoy being in the company of the 100s of children he had met during these past 24 days. They had come in all ages, sizes and shapes. As they sat in a miniature version of the throne right next to Santa, they had whispered their names and wishes into the jolly man’s waiting ear.

Most were standard fare, books, toys, pets…all of which would bring great delight under the Christmas tree, only to be all-too-quickly forgotten, broken, discarded. Then there were those few whose requests Santa could not possibly grant… bring back a Father who had not been seen in months…to help a friend who was very very ill…these were heart wrenching requests to which in reply Santa could only provide a soothing word or two hoping to provide a modicum of consolation, if for only a moment. Later, at night in bed, Charlie would think of these little ones having such pain, and Charlie would awaken the next morning, eyes red and cheeks still stained with his tears.

Now, the store clock struck 6 just as Frieda, a sweet tiny blonde who asked Santa a new violin to replace the one that had been stolen, turned to wave goodbye as she departed with her smiling parents. There were no more children in the cordoned line that lead to Santa’s throne; instead, here came Mr. Kaiser, the gentleman who had hired Charlie those many days before. Charlie slowly stood up from the throne in which he had been sitting for the past 5 hours. He did so slowly as his old back ached terribly.

Mr. Kaiser extended his right arm and, shaking Charlie’s now gloveless wrinkled hand, thanked him profusely for being such a wonderful Santa. Charlie was very tired now, but managed to smile as Mr. Kaiser wished him a very Merry Christmas.

Charlie removed his Santa hair, Santa beard, Santa suit and boots and left the shop, once again an anonymous figure making his way back to his room. He walked more slowly than ever, not just from fatigue, but because he now regretted the lies he had told that nice Mr. Kaiser back in November. Charlie had no family, no children or grandchildren…he had never had a family of his own. Nor were there any longer friends who had praised his character; those few whom he regarded as true friends had either moved away or had died long ago.   None of this had ever seemed to bother Charlie until now, but watching Frieda and all those countless other children arrive and depart with friends and families suddenly seemed now on this dark, cold and snowy midtown Christmas Eve to weigh heavily on Charlie’s shoulders.

Charlie kept walking, slowly, the glorious sights, sounds and smells of Christmas, the carolers on the corner, the brilliant lights decorating window after window up to the heights of the tallest buildings, roasted chestnut smells wafting into the crisp night air, people…lots of happy scarf bundled, heavy coat and cap wearing people laden with gifts making their ways to the bright warmth of their homes, their families, their friends…all of this seemed to Charlie so remote, so distant. He hardly dared look up into the passing faces as he made his way to the stairs leading to his building’s front door.

Although Charlie’s room was on the fourth floor, he took the stairs, his pace even slower than before. Finally, there was the door to his room. He entered, hung up his coat and hat, turned on the radio and prepared a cup of tea.  Then he sat in his very old, worn chair, so unlike the throne he had occupied the past month, but it was Charlie’s chair…the one near a window overlooking the street below. He raised its creaky wooden frame open, allowing the icy night breezes to enter and cool the dark stuffy room.

There was the ever expected, ever-present low motor rumble of horn beeping traffic delayed cars, taxis and busses slowly rolling by, those within eager to be with anticipating families and friends and the Christmas feasts with raised glasses, toasting to the health and welfare to all in the coming year and above all the laughter and good cheer to be in such marvelous company, all to come on this most holy night of nights.

The snow began to fall again and Charlie could see the endless cascade of thick falling flakes silhouetted against the street lamps. But now there was something else.  Music and laughter entered with the cold winter air, with faint thickly shawled, long coated hat or capped gift bag-toting passersby calls of ‘Merry Christmas…Merry Christmas….Merry Christmas’.  All of this joyous passing wonderment wafting aloft from four floors below.

Charlie sat alone in his small unadorned half-dark room, sipping his tea, drinking in the sounds of so many happy others on their ways to the warmth of family, home. ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ quietly played from the small white plastic radio on his kitchenette shelf.

Suddenly, and quite without warning or will, a terribly sad heavy empty loneliness descended on Charlie.  He had fought it for so long, but now its sweet sorrowful melancholy encompassed him. It was a horrid feeling and although it was still early, Charlie decided to go to bed.

It was then that there was a light, almost hesitant knock on the door to his room. A pause, and then it came again, this faint knock. Charlie slowly rose from his chair and, opening the door, saw that in the hallway outside stood 7-year old Martin Haller. He and his parents lived in an apartment on the floor above Charlie.

“Well, hello there, Martin. What brings you here so late”?

“Mr. Bell, Mom and Dad want to know if you would like to come up and celebrate Christmas with us”.

Charlie could not speak…did not move. In his stunned silence he could only make a slight quivering closed mouth half smile. Fighting back tears, he patted Martin’s head softly. Turning off the light and closing the door to his room, he silently took Martin’s small hand in his and together they walked up the stairs to the next floor.


I saw this broadcast as a boy; now, as I write this, I am of an age akin to that of Charlie.  Unlike Charlie, however, I have been blessed with a loving family and dear friends with whom I can rejoice in life, not only at Christmas, but throughout the swiftly fleeting year. Yet there are so many, particularly the elderly, who, indeed like Charlie, are alone, truly alone, in such circumstances of great need. It is therefore especially at this time of the year, then, that we should remember the destructive poverty of loneliness from which so many are suffering. It is these to whom we should turn; to devote even a modicum of our time and selves and in doing so, to bring some solace, some joy.

May you and yours have a most blessed Christmas season.


  1. You really needed to make me misty eyed at 11:55 on the morning of December the 23rd? Nice job my friend and Happiest Christmas to you two so far away from us! You are in my heart old friend, and in my mind we are still singing carols together!

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