A growing number of fictitious readers have been asking: "Doug, is it hard to do all these wonderful charitable activities, such as judging the Santa Claus Parade?"
Well, thanks for asking. The answer is: Yes, it is extremely hard, and we'll get to that in a minute, but first I need say thanks to everyone who brought their pets out Sunday to have their pictures taken with Santa, as portrayed by me, in the Pet Pics with Santa Paws fundraiser in support of the Winnipeg Humane Society.
This was the sixth year I have put on the red velvet suit and sweated like a Butterball turkey, and I am pleased to report that, other than a Great Dane inserting its tongue into Santa's nasal cavity and having eyeglasses coated in a diamond-hard layer of dog drool, it could not have gone better.
Getting back to the 103rd Santa Claus Parade, this was the second year I have been invited to be a judge. The expert panel also included Jim Ludlow, president and CEO of True North Sports & Entertainment; Garth Buchko, president and CEO of the Bombers; Goldeyes GM Andrew Collier; and legendary radio personality Don "the master of the morning" Percy.
Before the parade began, we judges were ushered through the throngs of joyful spectators to a heated bus shelter equipped with hot chocolate, coffee, sandwiches, cookies and nifty fleece blankets to keep us cosy.
Speaking of which, after pulling out his blanket, Bomber boss Garth spotted a young family shivering outside the bus shelter, so he marched out and graciously handed them his blanket, which prompted the rest of us judges to feel guilty and fling our blankets at Garth so he could dole them out, too.
I sensed this act of kindness touched Don's heart because he whispered in his best radio voice: "Now if he put a pair of Bombers season tickets in there, that would really be something!"
At the start of the parade, we judges were on fire with the spirit of the season. After about an hour, however, we struggled to exchange insightful remarks, such as: "That float had pretty lights." Or: "Are you going to finish that sandwich?"
If you need proof of how dangerous judging can be, you should know that as he filled out a complex judging form, Garth sustained a nasty paper cut.
"I've been bleeding for about half an hour," he told me bravely in mid-parade.
With all the cute kids dressed as angels and candy canes and elves and reindeer and penguins and chocolate-chip cookies, there were a lot of "ooh" and "ahhh" moments that made even hardened judges become a little misty-eyed.
"Ooooooh!" we guy judges squealed when a light-festooned speedboat the size of an aircraft carrier rolled past.
"Ahhhh!" my wife and volunteer judge hostess Jemini Prystie gasped when a crew of uniformed firefighters strutted by in a manly manner.
As a father and a veteran parade judge, I can't tell you how deeply moved I was when near the end of the 100-float parade, I spotted a familiar face marching with the West End Biz entry.
"That's my daughter," I whispered to Goldeyes GM Andrew Collier.
"Which one?" Andrew asked, politely.
"The one sticking her tongue out at us," I sniffed, proudly.
As always, the real highlight of the night came after about two hours when Santa's sleigh slowly rolled into view. Even before we could physically see it, the kids in the crowd, overcome with a festive frenzy, began chanting: "SANTA! SANTA! SANTA!"
Normally I'd take a moment here to describe this magical sight in detail, but I'm having a real hard time scraping the frozen dog drool off my eyeglasses.