I always love this time of year. Just when it starts to get cold, holiday shows keep me warm. They’re so much fun. Halloween’s okay, and we get to tell ghost stories and sing our favorite spooky song “Scared.” But there’s nothing quite like welcoming Santa to the area malls and events. Mall Santas work hard and long for a very short period of time. The best ones know the names of all the reindeer and have real beards you can tug on, although they don’t much like it when you do.
Mikel and I have been playing the holiday shows at three or four malls for years now, and they turn on a switch inside us, signaling the holidays are here. And even though it seems like yesterday, another year has passed, and I check the supply of white confetti we use as snow, buy candy canes in bulk for the kids in the audience and take out the box of santa hats, sleigh bells, antlers and garland. We once again practice songs we only play at this time of year, filling the set with “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph” and of course our own “Christmas In Baltimore”.
Our comrade for these shows is Miss Julie, a wonderful kids’ entertainer we’ve known for many years. Miss Julie does the Family Fun Days at the area malls, singing with the kids and celebrating birthdays throughout the year. She’s amazing and was an early inspiration for Mikel and me. Julie knows most of the regulars who come to her shows. She can tell us which kid eats too much candy, which kid sings at the top of her lungs, which little boy just lost his dad. In my book, she gets a hero award for being a friend, mother and grandmom to these kids. She’s someone they can depend on, one morning a week.
For the Christmas shows, Julie MCs and then helps find Santa and bring him down the escalator and through the awe-struck crowd. She asks him questions she knows he can answer – Julie always finds out beforehand “if they’re a talking Santa” or just want to smile and wave. We’ve met Santas who do magic tricks, Santas who talk about reindeer and what they eat, Santas who talk too much, Santas who kinda just mumble. Yesterday’s Santa had a cane. Evidently the reindeer were going too fast, and he fell off his sleigh. The kids were sympathetic and seemed a bit concerned as he waved goodbye and headed to his house in another wing of the mall.
Milkshake prides itself on how much fun we have and how we really try to get the kids to be part of the whole experience. But around this time, it’s all just amped up: more confetti (as snow), more kids singing and jingling their jinglebell bracelets or clapping their hands, more candy canes, more smiles in general.
Tomorrow the band will get together to practice some new holiday songs and a couple classic Milkshake songs we haven’t played in a while. Festival of Trees is in a couple weeks, and I think it’s the biggest holiday party we do. We play three absolutely joyously exhausting shows. This will be our seventh year doing the event. And of course we’ll be welcoming another Santa. I can’t wait.