DETROIT – Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. I have seen him with my very own eyes. I have touched him, and know that he is not just a figment of my imagination. He is a very jolly chap with the handsome hair and whiskers that you always imagine him possessing. He wears a suit of red and black and talks in deep, bellowing tones. I have never heard him say “Ho, Ho, Ho,” but I believe if you asked him to he would. And, of course, he smokes. A lot. When he speaks of doing good for other people he gets a gleam in his eye. Some might say a sparkle, like a distant star on a moonless night. Most folks call him Jim, but I like to call him Santa Wobbly. Give me a little of your time and I will explain.
Most of us talk about the Christmas spirit as if it is something that happens between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. We take the time to be friendlier and more charitable. We put that dollar in the Salvation Army pot as we scurry into whatever big box store to spend, spend, spend during the holidays. That dollar is the balm of our conscience. Drop a buck or two in the kettle and now I got the Holiday cheer! But that is not what Santa is all about, Virginia. Santa is magical because he does wondrous things that ordinary people would never imagine doing. The Santa I know does not give presents to all the boys and girls on Christmas Eve all over the world. The Santa I know is different. He gives all year long. He gives food and dignity instead of toys. He gives to adults as well as children. Just like all Santas, he asks for nothing in return. And this Santa brandishes an outline of an arched black cat on his crimson colored chest. Yes Virginia, this Santa is weird.
On the second and fourth Sunday of every month, 12 months a year, Santa Wobbly conjures up the Spirit of Christmas. He has been doing this since June of 2011. He magically appears in Cass Park in the city of Detroit along with 30 to 50 of his favorite elves. Within an hour the park is transformed into a banquet hall filled with sumptuous vittles. He calls this “Sunday in the Park with our Friends and the Forgotten Worker.” This park on most days is a sad reminder of our once great Detroit, but on these two days every month a real life miracle occurs. With the gift of a warm, delicious free meal, a palpable sense of dignity and respect surrounds the 200 or so folks in the park that day. This sensational sensation wraps around the volunteers as well as the recipients of the home cooked food. Money is never discussed or exchanged. In return for the meal some of the Friends help clean up the park afterwards. I tell you Virginia, come to Detroit and see for yourself. It is worth the trip for this reason alone.
In this time and place when low paid workers are rising up and demanding a living wage, you will find the spirit of Santa Wobbly alive as well. He has been seen cooking and serving food at so many functions in support of uplifting his fellow worker it is no wonder that he has reached a somewhat mythical status. How can one person feed so many? Does he not sleep? Can he climb down a chimney? Is it the magic dust? Virginia, we will never know how he does all these things. Just enjoy the hummus.
I tell you these things because I know that the Spirit of Christmas and Santa are real. They are as real as a child’s laugh. They are as real as the warmth of a bowl of lentil soup in an empty stomach. They are as real as calling someone friend instead of homeless. And they are real, Virginia, because we know that true magical spirits always give and never ask for anything in return. Thank you for letting me tell you this tale and may your Holidays be joyous and extend throughout the year.
(Jim Rehberg, aka Santa Wobbly [he has no idea that is his nickname] is a proud member of the Detroit chapter of the IWW and operates the non-profit Wobbly Kitchen in the Metro Detroit area. He has been the go-to guy for years when the social justice activists around here are putting on a benefit and need some tasty grub. He is also a trustee of South East Michigan Jobs with Justice and that is where I have grown to admire and understand his strong charitable beliefs. He has spent much of his own personal “fortune” over the years giving nourishment, both physical and spiritual, to those in need. Brother Jim, Santa Wobbly, your spirit of giving has infected me with that righteous rash; that itch to follow in your footsteps. Thank you for that greatest gift of all. I do still believe. – John “Cementhead” Dick)
Photo: Jim Rehberg, the “Wobbly Santa,” preparing for a dinner at the park in Detroit. Courtesy of Jim’s Facebook page.