Then, Santa noticed a menorah and dreidels in the background. Santa asked Sophie if she’d like to sing the dreidel song, which they both knew by heart. When Santa noticed that the menorah was unlit, he led Sophie over to light the candles and sing the Hanukkah blessings. Both Sophie and the menorah lit up. Santa turned around to see Sophie’s parents, stunned.
In Bedford, Santa is Jewish.
At least one of them is. Ken Gordon, 59, is an employment attorney, a Democratic state representative for the 21st Middlesex District, and a congregant at Temple Isaiah in Lexington. For the past 23 years, he has dressed up as Santa Claus on Christmas as part of the Bedford Community Santa Program, which enlists around 20 volunteers to play Santa Claus and deliver presents on Christmas Eve. He has also dressed up as Santa at the Hanscom Air Base in Bedford for children of military personnel.
Alongside a volunteer driver and an assistant “elf” who makes sure that presents are being delivered to the right homes, Gordon gets into a hot, scratchy Santa suit that he found at – where else? – a synagogue rummage sale, where, true to form, he also purchased a menorah.
Gordon sees no contradiction in being a Santa Claus who also buys menorahs, because he sees himself as a character in a secular play. “It has nothing to do with the nativity. That culture of the holiday has nothing to do with something that I don’t accept – it has nothing to do with the messiah kind of story. Now I feel like a character in a play – it’s not my life. It’s just little kids who want to believe in something – they want to believe in the fantasy of something.”
To make that fantasy come true, Gordon and his team travel to 20 homes throughout town, delivering gifts that parents had requested for their kids through the program. Part of the job, said Gordon, is learning to answer the many questions children throw his way.
“I didn’t celebrate that holiday as a child, so I didn’t exactly know all the questions I could be asked, but I figured I could wing it,” said Gordon of his early years as Santa. “I’m a trial lawyer, so I always was able to manage an answer, and it was always fun because I’d come out of a house laughing sometimes at some of the questions.”
When children ask Gordon where Santa’s been all day, he replies that the reindeer are having their breakfast, and the elves are preparing. When asked if Santa is real, Gordon replies, “What about you? Are you real? How would you like if someone asked you that question?”
Gordon has likely engaged in a similar conversation, albeit in a suit and tie instead of a Santa suit, at the Massachusetts State House, where he has represented Bedford, Burlington, and a portion of Wilmington since 2013.
Gordon first knew he wanted to be a state representative in the middle of a 2012 Bruce Springsteen concert at Fenway Park. Just as he heard the chorus to “The Rising”:
Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight
He felt a wave of inspiration wash over him to rise up in his own way. Just three weeks before the September primary, Gordon launched a bid as a write-in candidate.
“I didn’t think it would be successful, but I thought I would give it my best shot, because it was a district that was small enough that rather than complain, I’ll just spread the word of my values and see if it catches on,” said Gordon. It did. With two opponents, Gordon won with 55 percent of the vote.
Since entering the State House, Gordon has advanced a number of causes that, as an employment attorney, are close to his heart. He helped write legislation for the Paid Family and Medical Leave program, which Governor Charlie Baker signed into law in June. When it goes into effect in 2021, the bill will allow some employees up to a year’s worth of paid parental leave to care for a newborn child, and up to 26 paid weeks for a serious illness.
Right now, Gordon is working on a host of progressive legislation – from upgrades to the bill that would help families get affordable daycare through vouchers, to a proposed bill to protect workers from waiving important rights when they sign mandatory HR documents.
“I looked for someone who was prepared with the values consistent with mine who was prepared to serve,” said Gordon. “I had never run for anything in my life. The reason I did was I realized that if I were successful, I could help a whole lot of people all at once.”
He could also say the same thing about his annual Christmas side gig.