When Chuck Hubbell was in high school and recited “Twas the Night Before Christmas” in class with surprising perfection, he found his voice. When he was 35 years old and began uttering, “Ho, Ho, Ho!”, he discovered a real joy deep within him. And 13 years later, when he tried the red suit on and it fit, he knew that he was indeed, Santa Claus.
It’s not a movie. This is the real life story of someone who grew up without really knowing about Christmas.
His was a family who didn’t celebrate the season and often moved with his father’s jobs. Chuck would be the new kid in 12 different schools before he entered 8th grade. And in every school, he was the target of bullies. But instead of letting the pain beat him, he let it build him into someone who was kind and giving.
A Fateful Day
These very qualities would one day enable him to bring hope and joy to countless children. That day happened at the age of 58 – just five years ago.
Chuck explained, “I walked in on a meeting at Bud Murphy’s Restaurant. A planning committee was discussing the very first “It’s a Connellsville Christmas”. I asked permission to get something out of the storage closet in the room and as I reached inside, one of them asked me to say ‘Ho, Ho, Ho!”
He didn’t know why he was being asked, but Chuck played along and gave it all he had. After his successful rendition, he was asked to come by the chamber office the next day to try on the Santa suit. If it fit, they had a job for him – serving as Santa Claus at the upcoming Christmas celebration at East Park.
The job was his.
To Know a Name
At the park, Chuck said a little girl named Gabrielle was hiding behind a tree. He remarked, “She believed in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, but not Santa Claus. She kept peeking over at me. I said, ‘Gabrielle is that you? At the sound of her name, she screamed with excitement, ran up to me and spent the next 45 minutes telling me about her life.
The single biggest thing Santa can do, with the help of his elves, is to know a child’s name.”
That’s true for big kids too.
“Last night I was at the Italian Oven Restaurant. There was a high school student there and I asked him, ‘Hey Michael, how is your Algebra? He responded, ‘How did you know my name?’ Michael hasn’t believed in years. I found out later that he was blown away. That’s the magic Santa makes,” Chuck commented.
And if that’s not enough to make a believer out of big kids, Chuck has some statistics that he said “leaves them in awe.” Here are a few he likes to share:
“How many hours does it take for Santa to complete the journey? Considering the time changes and rotation of the planet, the answer is 31 hours. How many houses does Santa get into every second on Christmas Eve? The answer is 822.6. If you blink your eye, I’ve been in 64 houses, eliminating the need for a chimney,” he remarked.
Why should they believe? Chuck remarked, “Because it’s part of the goodness of life. There are so many bad things out there. It is possible to believe for a while in something that’s magical and something that’s good.
Everybody believes in Santa Claus until midnight on the 24th and then the real meaning of Christmas takes over on the 25th. On Christmas Day, we were given the best gift of all – Jesus Christ. I kneel-down at the living nativity.”
Making a Child Smile
Chuck said that a service project he participated in at a Children’s Hospital years ago in Washington, DC forever changed his approach to children. “We were making and handing out “Happy Hats” to children being treated in the hospital that day. My job was to hold the hand-held mirror up to each child and help them see how good they looked in their new hat.
The children were afflicted with a myriad of diseases and many suffered from the physical effects and the treatment. Because of this, their looks had been altered. I was given the privilege of helping them see their inner and outer beauty. When this happened, their eyes lit up. Today, I would say to a child, ‘You look so pretty in your boots,’ rather than saying, ‘What pretty boots.’ When I can make a child smile, it’s magic,” he said.
A Special Request
One very magical moment for Chuck happened this time last year. He explained, “I was invited to a private party. The mother knew I was coming but no one else did. She called me one and a half hours before I was to be there. ‘We have to cancel Christmas because I have three boys (ages 8, 7, and 5) who can’t pick up their toys,’ she said.
I showed up at the house and banged on the door. When the children came to the door, I said, ‘I hear we have to cancel Christmas! Do you realize how many children are going to be disappointed?’ While I was talking, Nicholas, the five year old, came and got me and showed me his room so that I could see there were no more toys on the floor. I came back out and asked his mom how he was going to sleep on the lumpy bed and then I asked the children what they wanted for Christmas.
Nicholas said, ‘I want a baby sister!’ Everyone fell out of their chair laughing. Two weeks ago the family welcomed a baby girl. I have to tell him, ‘Be careful what you ask for for this year!’
Last night, Chuck was called to make an emergency visit to a home where a grandmother is living out her final hours. She was lying in the living room on a bed surrounded by a mom, dad, and two children, ages 7 and 5. They had arrived that day from another city to be with her. The children will not be home for Christmas. They needed some joy.
“I burst into the house and made my way to the living room. I greeted the children and surprised them both by already knowing what they wanted for Christmas. We talked and they asked questions like, ‘How did I know they were there?’ I said, ‘Cookie dust’. I had guessed they had each had a cookie sometime in the day. They both admitted they had.
Leaning close to Grandma she said to me, ‘I see Santa and I see Jesus.’ As I was leaving the girl asked, ‘Who gives presents to Santa?’ I assured her the Elves did. But she said that she wanted to give me something and would make it between today and Christmas.
It’s magic I can’t describe. The emotions of last night are still raw,” he said.
Chuck is writing a book, “My life as the Claus: Learning how to say Ho, Ho, Ho!” It’s expected to be finished in the spring of 2015.
In an excerpt, he wrote, “In the past few years my life has changed in a very different way than I could have possibly thought it would. I have seen life through the eyes and hearts of children. I have been humbled many more times than I can count by the innocence of children. Children who can see the magic in something most of their friends tell them doesn’t exist.”
What is magic? Chuck said. “It’s creating a twinkle in a child’s eye when they are called by name. It’s when they pull your beard and know that you are real. It’s the “wow” factor moment in the movie, “The Santa Clause” when the little boy is sitting in Santa’s sleigh and the reindeer take off.
The magic is when they believe.”