So I make costumes. Not your average fitted attire. I mean I do that too, but not just that. I make BIG costumes. Like with metal and shit. So about October-ish, I contacted a costume making studio that does work with a convention called “Dickens-fair”. Maybe You’ve heard of it. It is a Christmas fair that turns the whole center into a replica of Dickens’ London, complete with actors who represent his characters. I had always wanted to go and was just trying to think of ways to help out.
I contacted the head person for costumes for the actors and I told her I make period pieces and I specialize in weird stuff, but also in turning old thrift store items into period attire. She emailed me back and was like “Come meet me” and so I did. I came out to her studio and was sitting with her folks, showing her pictures of all the stuff I’d done I was proud of. Then she says…”Wait…I have an idea.”
She tells me that every year, Dickens-fair has this one performer who is a fiddling Christmas tree. Like What? yes. A tree…that fiddles. Apparently it’s like the fucking Mickey of Dickens-fair. Only, her outfit was made a few years back from fabric, and kind of looked like a dunce cap with streamers. She told me that this year, the Fiddling Tree wanted a new costume. She says “Can you make a Christmas tree that can fiddle?”
I’m like…no. “If she can fiddle and wear a tree, then I can build a tree that can be worn by a fiddler. Hell yeah.”
And she’s like…”It can’t touch her shoulders, and it has to fit over her normal costume, and it has to be period accurate, so all period ornaments.”
And I’m like…bitch, “I got this.”
She says “Come back in a week and meet her and give us your idea.”
So I designed…because I make costumes and I have Christmas in my blood. My mom always tells this story about how when I was like 4, I was with her at the train station in LA and I saw this man sitting on a bench. Now this man wore blue denim overalls, with a long sleeved red shirt, had a white beard, and carried a wooden cane carved with Rudolph, who had a gemstone nose…He was fucking Santa. Admit it. And 4 year old me was like……SANTA? My mom always says I stared at him hard and then tried to climb in his lap, like for real Tim Allen from Santa Clause style, but he was cool, and pulled me into his lap and had a whole conversation with me about whether or not I was being good…in July. According to my mom, he told her he was a professional Santa and this was something he always got from kids, and that he loved it. He then got picked up by a woman in a convertible and drove away.
My mom has been telling me this story since I was five.
So this year, about 3 years ago, I was like…A Christmas tree that fiddles…I got this.
I mean, I drew this shit. I went to hardware stores and craft shops and I priced out this shit. There were emails about what I could expect to be the substructure. I made a barbie doll scale model with pipe cleaners. I came in with a fucking Plan.
And they laughed and said… “We love the barbie…OK.”
So I had a budget. I had an idea. And I went with it. I made measurements and all sorts of stuff. Let me tell you about this costume…
This woman is 6′2″. She fiddles. She wears, beneath the tree, a full period costume. This means a bell hoop skirt and a corset. I made sure they had a hoop for her that was carved from fucking PVC pipe and a steel boned corset, and I went to work. I had frames…on fucking chains…from MY CEILING. I had the whole thing mapped out.
A lightweight metal skirt in a grid pattern made from chain, linked together in a mesh. gathered at the waist and clipped like a belt. Over the head, a cone-like structure carved out of mesh, mounted on braces that were lashed to the torso with straps bolted into the metal cross-braces. A light aluminum frame. And over this…a cape, made from long dangling chains. Every inch of chain was coated in weatherproofing green paint. Every few links…a limb hacked off a fake plastic Christmas tree. Woven amidst these? A series of handmade and donated ornaments, including fake cookies made from clay, fake candles with a remote control that controlled the flicker. I had paper ornaments, streamers, instruments made of brass, birds, candies made from plastic…I mean I had everything, and all to period. I worked and worked on this for months and had numerous fittings.
The aluminum headpiece came along. I was stressed. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to make this fucking cone mount on her chest so her shoulders would be free. I mean I had ideas – like a cone, but with a back and front piece that came down her torso and to which, straps were fixed that clipped at the sides. This would distribute weight evenly through the corset and allow for freedom of the shoulders. But! I didn’t have a firm plan. I went to the hardware store.
Me. Three months pregnant. All cute and glowy and shit.
And I walked into the section where all the plumbing and flashing is. Now I know my way around. I hate going here because I’m usually hassled by a dude who thinks girls can’t know shit about hardware. But this time…this time it was a nice old man with a snowy white beard, wearing a red shirt and a green apron. I’m like…he’s a Santa…this is fate.
He comes over and says “What can I help you with today?”
And so I tell him the whole story. About the tree, and the odd parameters, the physics, the complexities. I tell him what I’m trying to create, this cone of metal lashed to the chest, and he…
He tells me, “I’m a Santa. I do it every year. I love this project! I want to help!”
As we are brain storming, and he’s showing me all the products that might work, he mentions to me that he isn’t the first Santa in his family.
“My dad did it for most of his life.”
“Man, I have such respect for Santas. My mom always tells this story about me meeting this man who looked like a Santa at a train station and trying to sit on his knee.”
The man got very quiet. “At a train station?”
“Yeah, like he was wearing overalls and a red shirt and had this carved cane…”
“I remember that cane,” he says.
I turn to him… “The one with Rudolph?”
“With a ruby nose. Yeah. After he died I looked everywhere for it, but I couldn’t find it.”
I stopped. Like straight up stopped moving, with like my limbs all cold as snow. “Wait a minute? What? Are you telling me you know that Santa?”
“I think that was my dad. He is exactly as you say. He worked on the railroad as a conductor for most of his life, and when he retired they gave him free travel. He was always taking trips, and he always went as Santa, because after he retired, he did that full time.”
“Did your mom own a convertible? Like a sleek one?”
I lost it. I’m in the middle of fucking Ace Hardware, talking to Santa, about my Santa, the one I can’t remember, but always knew existed, and that man is this Santa’s daddy. And here I am…shopping for parts to a fiddling Christmas tree. I cried like a little kid. He hugged me. I apologized and told him I was in my first trimester. He said it was fine. He gave me his card. Told me he was glad to hear his father had had such an impact on kids. He helped me pick out my tree pieces and then checked me out.
I built the best fucking tree you ever saw. I wove metal. I bent aluminum. I used riveters. I worked with saws, and vices, and paint, and glue, and fucking plastic clay. I did everything wearing gloves and a mask because of baby. I did it all like I had a fire under me, because fuck that…I’m not letting Santas down.
And this is what I made.
This was the dry fitting, the trial run. We fluffed it out with more limbs, added bits here and there, or planned for more. I strung this fucking thing from my rafters on a mannequin and we had a tree decorating party, putting ornaments on it like it was a real tree. Then we had her put on the whole thing, and we watched her play “O Tannenbaum”
And it was the best Christmas moment ever, for me.
That year, I had free tickets to Dickens-fair. I went and caught sight of my Christmas tree fiddling around, playing songs for kids and spreading the spirit. Then later I saw the fiddler dancing in Fezziwig’s ball, with her tree skirt still on over her dress. It was awesome, seeing this 7.5′ tall tree gliding around, this thing I made, with help from My Santa’s Son.
I was Santa that year. It made my holiday.
So the next time you meet a Santa… it might not be the real guy… but you needed to meet him. And if you are a Santa… this is what you do. This is your legacy.
Keep it up.
It is 7:40 am on Christmas morning and I am in bed, sobbing.
Merry Christmas Jill!