Information is power.
When following humanity’s use of technology, our history is often divided into Ages. Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Middle Ages, Industrial Age (ushered in by the Renaissance), Electronic Age, and now the Information Age. There are many varieties of this list, but most end where we are now, with information being readily available to most who want, and know how, to find it.
A figure like Santa Claus, né Nicholas de Maya (270 AD), devenu St Nick (1800’s), has had to adapt over those ages. Not having had to do much during the stone ages, during his incorporation before and during the Middle (some Dark) Ages, and being thrust into the world limelight during the Industrial Age, he has figured out how to stay true to his mission of protecting and delighting children.
In some ways the Ages have provided challenges for the big guy. Think about how easy it was to just arrive with sweets and toys that were the only and best things a child could imagine! That is now a thing of the past… As the Industrial Age came around and the world of commerce grew smaller, kids grew wiser to the myriad of possibilities out there. The Wells Fargo Wagon or Franklin’s Postal Service was trumped only by Santa Claus in efficiency, but the ability to bring “something special just for me” complicated his job, substantially. As technology progressed, not only was the system of gift selection subject to a broadening and complicated paradigm, but so, too, were the communication and delivery systems. The wishes became letters, the letters became visits. The sleigh had to take to the air, and bypassing the chimneys has become a more frequent quest.
The Information Age has provided some of the most complicated, yet progressive, obstacles for the man in red. Starting with television advertising and progressing into the advent of home computers, the internet, and digital technology, he has been faced with a shrinking global economy, a hugely diversified vendor pool, and a much more savvy clientele–these kids know what’s what!
And thus, information has become king.
I have been thinking alot about this as it relates to the Visit, a small event when faced with the vast atmosphere already discussed, but perhaps one of the more critical elements. When it comes down to the one-on-one visit with Father Christmas, information can play a huge role. A mall Santa has become adept at navigating the challenging waters of the improvisational experience that queued-up lap-sitting mandates. And many a mall Santa has found ways to access information not otherwise provided. He learns the right questions, and sticks to safe, rote, answers. He blames perceived ignorance on age or memory, and is quick with a retort to create a familiarity about the situation that soothes a questioning child’s mind. He relies more on instinct than information.
But when Santa is able to access information in advance, the experience is enhanced. The wonderment surges. And the Christmas Spirit flows! This is the experience sought after: an intimate moment with the guy who knows my name, understands my hopes and dreams, and holds the key to my happiness!
These are the thoughts running through my head as I prepare to visit families this year, whether virtual or in person. I have a form that I ask the parents/hosts to complete. This form provides me with information. Some is basic: Name, age, gender. Some is to help create the magic: Name of shelf elf, pets, siblings. Some is to create a continuity of conversation, some is to provide focus to the interaction, and some is to make sure I’m where I’m supposed to be when I’m supposed to be there.
And then there is the information that is most important. What will make this visit the highlight of this child’s year? What can help this child through a tough time? What will cause the Spirit of Christmas to swell within this child’s heart? If I can say the right thing at the right time, the effect can be miraculous. If mom or dad can provide me with that special piece of information, I can bring the magic! My wife likes to refer to a quote from her youth: “Inspiration is 90% information”.
And so, as I spend the last few moments in preparating to visit with these wonderful little ones, I pore over my information. I have already done my homework with regards to the beard, the costume, the presence, the jolly.
Now, information is power…