Gifts of Love

I never expected to receive a Christmas gift this year but I did.  In fact, I got two gifts and both came as a complete surprise.  They were the first gifts that I’ve received at Christmas, in a very long time and at first, I hesitated about opening them.  But I’ll get back to the gifts of love in a moment because I need to tell you, dear reader, another story from my childhood.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve had mixed feelings about receiving gifts but I’m not sure why.  It’s not that I’m fussy or difficult to please – I’m not.  It’s just that I feel awkward and unworthy – but I can’t explain it better than that.  But I love giving gifts – so I’ll never be accused of being a Scrooge.

As one, of six children, we always had a gift to open on our birthday or at Christmas but they were seldom toys or other neat things that you’d see advertised on TV.  One Christmas, we got an oversized toboggan – but who wants to share that with two older sisters?   But we always had a great Christmas feast and always lots of company to share the excitement.  And my Ma would always bake a birthday cake on our birthdays – so I’m not complaining or ungrateful. 

But there was always a little part of me that was jealous of my friends at school when they described all of the stuff they got.  The gift I got most often, was something that my Ma knitted for me – such as a pair of mitts, a toque (knitted cap) or socks.  My Grandma Puffer used to also knit things for my sisters, brothers and me.  It wasn’t until later years that I realized how much time and love were spent by Ma and Grandma knitting things for us.  And Ma used to make my sister’s blouses, dresses, and skirts.  She was very talented and I always received compliments when wearing a sweater that Ma had knitted me.  I still have the sweaters and I treasure them, although they no longer fit.

A few weeks before Christmas, one of the walking groups that I belong to was having a party and everyone brought a gift.  I didn’t stay at the party once the meal was served, so I wasn’t there when the gifts were distributed.  Everyone brought something inexpensive that would be suitable for either a man or woman.  A week or so later, one of my walking buddies mentioned that he had saved my gift from the party and it was in his car.  He gave it to me last week, after Christmas but I never opened it until yesterday.  It was a generous gift certificate.  Again I felt a pang of guilt for receiving a gift.  

The other gift that I received was really unexpected – and it too warms my heart just thinking about it. 

My friend Sannie had started a new job in Vancouver, so our get-togethers were becoming less frequent.  But she is like a daughter to me and I was hoping we could see each other before the holidays.  We made arrangements to meet for lunch on the 23rd.  I had gathered a bunch of goodies from Trader Joe’s for her as an unwrapped Christmas gift because I didn’t want her to feel bad for not getting me anything.  But she told me that she had a gift from me, so after we had lunch and got back in the car, we exchanged our Christmas card and gift.

Sannie’s gift to me was neatly wrapped with two ribbons on each end of the gift.  I read the card – and then with my hands trembling with the excitement of a ten-year-old, I opened the present.  It was an awesome toque that she had knitted for me!  And although I never asked her – I imagined that she probably thought about me, as she knitted it.  I held back the tears until we had said our goodbyes and had started the drive home.  Her boyfriend Kuba, is a very lucky boy!

This was the best Christmas I’ve had in many years!  

Sannie and Kuba (Jacob)





Message from Santa Danny

Leigha Rock, Dr. Denise Laronde and Santa Danny (December 19, 2017)


Yesterday, Santa Danny went to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver to present a cheque towards oral cancer research at the university and BC Cancer Foundation.

He also visited with the staff in the Faculty of Dentistry, which is where Danny gave his speech during their Research Day in January 2016.  It was Dr. Laronde, who invited me, as a cancer patient/survivor to give a speech about oral cancer.

Here is the link to the presentation:  Danny’s speech at UBC Faculty of Dentistry

And Leigha Rock is a Ph.D. student (soon to be a doctor!) who I attended a number of evening dental study groups with.  In the recent ranking among doctorate students – Leigha ranked 3rd out of 900 in Canada!

I’ll be posting all of the pictures from Santa’s visit when I get back from my Wednesday walk with my friends at Surrey Trekkers.

Wishing everyone an awesome holiday season and a healthy and happy New Year!

Hugs & Luv,

Santa Danny


The Day that Santa cried…

Santa at school

Santa at Nicomekl School, December (2013)

It’s early on Wednesday morning, and I am preparing Santa for his most painful official visit – to talk to the students of Nicomekl Elementary School in Langley.

Visiting patients at the Cancer Centre isn’t very difficult for Santa because he too, has had cancer and he knows what most of the patients are going through both during and after radiation and chemotherapy treatments.  Knowing that Santa Claus had cancer treatments six years ago – and the fact that he is still here is comforting and encouraging for most patients.  And that’s why I visit dress as Santa every year.

So Santa, how can visit the students of an elementary school be much more challenging that visiting cancer patients?

Well, Santa first got a call three years ago from Sarah Bess M., one of the parent/volunteers of Nicomekl School’s annual Santa’s Workshop.  She asked if Santa would be able to visit the students in class and if so, how much would Santa charge?

At the time, Santa explained that he was completely booked for every weekend in December and had no openings available.

Sarah:  Actually, our event is on a Wednesday – from 9:00 AM – 2:30 PM, but you wouldn’t have to be there for the whole day – even if you could come for an hour or two.  How much would you charge?

Santa Danny:  I don’t quite understand what you want Santa to do at the Workshop.

Sarah:  Well, during the year we do fundraisers to raise money to purchase gifts for the students.  Many of the students are from single-parent families and are on social assistance, and would not be getting any presents at Christmas.

Santa Danny:  Oh, so you want Santa to give the presents to the children?

Sarah:  Oh no, Santa!  The money we raise is to buy things from various thrift shops – but the things that we buy are actually for the parent(s) of the child.  On Wednesday, we bring each of the students into the school’s auditorium.  All of the items are on tables; we let them choose one item for their parent(s), and then we help them to wrap the gift.  And although that child may not get a present on Christmas, at least he/she can experience the joy of giving a gift to their parent(s).

I started to get a lump in my throat…

Santa Danny:  There won’t be a charge – what time would you like me to be there?  Oh, and I’ll need a place to change into my outfit.

As Santa Danny, I had seen many, many children and had always made the point of explaining to them that Santa may not be able to bring them the everything they want, but he will at least try to give them something.

As Santa Danny, I’ve seen the excitement in the eyes of children when they see me.  It gives me the thrill to share in their excitement.  But it puts a hole in my heart when I know that the child sitting on my knee won’t be getting a present for Christmas.  For many, there won’t even be a Christmas tree or decorations.  And they won’t get served turkey with stuffing, on Christmas Day – they might get an extra helping of leftovers from the day before.

And as I pack my suitcase with the Santa Claus outfit I start to feel the Fear…

But the Fear isn’t that the children wouldn’t be happy to see Santa – because they will be as excited as you and I were when we were their age.  No, it’s the Fear that comes from knowing that some of the children I see won’t be able to get what they want for Christmas – and it’s not toys or presents.

So on that day three years ago, when Santa visited the school, he went from classroom to classroom and was met with screams of delight from most of the kids.  But there was one little girl that asked Santa for something that left him speechless – she asked Santa if he could stop her Mommy and Daddy from fighting.  Santa did not know what to say but finally just gave her a hug and whispered in her ear that her Santa loves her and hopes that things will be better in the New Year.  But the sadness on that little girl’s face is an image that I will never forget.

I arrived at the school at 8:30 AM and went to the office.  A change room allowed me to get changed into my Santa Claus outfit.  I do not drive around in public dressed as Santa – because Santa has a sleigh and reindeer -so he would never, ever be in a car.

I met with Sarah, who was busy decorating the school auditorium with other parent volunteers.  I was surprised to see how many items they had this year, but I’m sure that there probably isn’t enough to go around.

So Santa visited the Kindergarten and Grade 1 classes and spent time talking and sang with the kids and even answering all of their questions.  The last class that Santa visited, all of the kids ran up to him and circled him with a group hug.  It was a very moving experience, and Santa was feeling jubilant when he suddenly noticed the little boy, standing at the back of the room, with his hands in his pockets and the saddest look in his eyes.  Santa walked over to the little boy and bent down to whisper in his ear.

Santa Danny:  Hi son, I’m so happy to see you!  And what do you want Santa to bring you this year?

Little boy:  Can you bring my Daddy back?  

And then his eyes started filling with tears as Santa gave him a hug and told him that he was loved by many people – by his Mommy, his Daddy, his other family members, his teacher, his friends and of course, Santa Claus.  I also told him that things will get better, but Santa knew differently.  I tried to release myself from the hug, but the little boy continued to hug Santa as though he didn’t want him to go.

Santa went back to the secret room to get changed and then went to say goodbye to Sarah and the other parents.  He gave a contribution towards their next year’s Santa Workshop and wished them continued success!  They promised to send him pictures – which he said he would post on this blog.

I left and rushed home to get showered and changed to go to Vancouver for an audition at Go Studios.

It’s now 7:00 AM on Sunday morning and I will be doing a Santa visit in Vancouver from 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM.

My last Santa visit will be on Wednesday, December 23rd at the Cancer Centre in Surrey.

Sadly, it will also be my last shift as a volunteer at the Cancer Centre.

And that dear reader was the day that Santa cried.


Santa Danny and Rona in Chemo Room


Santa Kissing Rona

Dedicated to the patients and staff at the BC Cancer Agency.


Santa Danny

Not a creature was stirring….

Originally published December 24, 2012

Santa in the Chemo Room Dec. 24, 2012

Santa in the Chemo Room Dec 24 2012

It was the morning of Christmas Eve and once again it didn’t feel like Christmas. 

It had been years since I last celebrated Christmas – but I remember it well.  It was in 1983 at my Mom & Dad’s place in Midland, Ontario.  My family always got together to celebrate Christmas at my parent’s place – but I had missed the last couple of Christmases because I was living in Vancouver.  My Dad came to the Toronto airport to pick me up – I had yet to see their new home in Midland – but I was more excited about seeing my Mom and brothers and sisters and my niece and nephew.  That’s what Christmas was all about to the St. Andrews family – being together and enjoying our own special traditions.  Some of those traditions included arriving on Christmas Eve and spending the night – so we could all get up together – just like when we were all growing up at our home in Oshawa and then later in Georgetown.

At my parents home in Georgetown, my Dad had built a wonderful bar in the rec room and he would wear a Christmas hat while he served drinks from his perch on a stool – behind the bar – which he considered “sacred” ground.  You NEVER went behind the bar when Dad was on duty – the words “self-serve” did not exist in his bar.  So as we arrived on Christmas Eve, the first thing you heard when you entered their house was the laughter and shouting from downstairs.  A few hugs and kisses with Mom and then you would head downstairs to reunite with the clan.

Early on Christmas morning – probably no later than 6:00AM, my Dad would be the first one to awake and ready to act as Santa.  We would all gather around the Christmas Tree in the family room and my Dad would give each person one gift to open – beginning with my Mom.  Everyone would watch quietly as each person opened their gift – and then there would be loud outbursts of “oooo’s and ahhhhhh’s”.  My brothers, sisters and I would then prepare a large breakfast for everyone – and let Mom have the day off from the kitchen.  Immediately after breakfast we would all gather at the Christmas Tree and continue to open all the gifts.  About mid-morning, Dad would announce that the bar was open.  Later, Mom would bring a platter of Scotch Eggs for us to snack on.  And then about mid-afternoon we would all gather in the dining room for a sumptuous turkey dinner.  Later, my brother-in-law Brian – a professional photographer, would get everyone together for a family portrait – which we would all receive framed copies.  Then some of us would start to leave to go to our respective homes – which always made my Mom cry.  She was happiest when she had everyone of us together – as a family – and always pleaded with us – “Do you have to go so soon?”

So, on this morning of Christmas Eve, I was having a coffee and looking at one of those family portraits – and I got homesick.  Homesick because I missed my Mom and Dad – and family – and those magical Christmases we shared together.  And I missed not having that special feeling that I used to get every year – at Christmas.  Two years ago, I went to Costco and bought a ton of outdoor Christmas lights – and decorated all of the hedges, evergreens and fence – I had just finished my cancer treatments and didn’t know how many more Christmases I would be around for – and desperately hoping that the lights would bring back that special Christmas feeling.  But it didn’t.

Last week I wrote a blog about buying a complete Santa Claus outfit – so I could visit all of the patients at the Fraser Valley Cancer Centre – where I was  treated – and where I have been volunteering every week for the past 16 months.  And as I made my way through the various clinics – almost all of the patients eyes would light up with excitement.  I was hearing voices from all sides – things like:  “Hi Santa!” and “Merry Christmas Santa” and “Hey Santa, can we get a picture of you with us?”  Within five minutes that special feeling returned – and I was a kid again.  I didn’t rush home and decorate the house with lights though; in fact, within hours of leaving the Cancer Centre I lost the feeling – which made me really sad.

So on the morning of Christmas Eve, I decided to get dressed as Santa Claus, again – and go to the Cancer Centre and to Surrey Memorial Hospital.  As soon as I walked into the hospital lobby a woman ran up to me, pleading, “Oh Santa, could I get a picture with you and my Mom?”  I said “Sure – Ho, Ho Ho!”  The mother slowly walked up to me – she was in her patient gown and was wearing a Christmas hat.  I gave her a hug and was posing with her for the picture – when her daughter suddenly said “Mom, why are you crying?”  Before the mother could answer, I squeezed her closer to me and asked her why she was crying.  She stared up at me and with tears rolling down her cheek, she cried, “Because I never thought I would ever meet Santa Claus!”   I kissed her on the cheek and whispered into her ear “I will always be with you”. 

I toured the Cancer Centre and then walked down the hall to the adjoining Surrey Memorial Hospital and took the elevator up to 51 North – the Oncology Floor.  I had been a patient there several times during my cancer treatments – when I was at my lowest point.  I walked into each of the patients’ room and wished them all a Happy Holiday.  On my way back to the elevator, I noticed a Palliative Care sign over the entrance to another wing of the floor.  “This is where the very sick and/or terminally ill patients are”, I thought to myself.  I walked into the ward and all of the medical staff were surprised to see Santa.  After posing for several photos I asked if it would be okay to say hello to the patients.  They replied in unison  “Of course you can – you’re Santa Claus!”

I made my way around the ward; entering each of the rooms and then holding the hand of each of the patients.  I didn’t know what to say but what suddenly burst out of my mouth was “I know that you’ve always believed in me, and I just wanted to drop by to say hello”.  One patient – an older man – was wearing a Christmas hat and said that he had awoke that morning excited with the hope that maybe a friend or family member might drop by for a visit.  But none had – until Santa Claus.  He held my hand for the longest time and just stared at me and then muttered “Thank you Santa – Merry Christmas”.  I turned to leave his room – my eyes were filling with tears and I didn’t want him to see me cry.  After all, he believed in Santa Claus. 

And now so do I.



Tune selection: Please Come Home For Christmas ~ The Eagles