Eons ago, when I was young and still a believer, I liked Santa Claus. No; more: I loved Santa Claus. He was the source of everything good at Christmas. He put the abracadabra in the magic of the season. His story gripped me: his house up at the North Pole, his elves making toys, his sleigh pulled by those eight flying reindeer, his rooftop landings, and his chimney descents. Somehow, he managed to distribute all those toys and gifts to the proper houses and skedaddle home to Goodwife Clause before anyone ever saw him. Wow!
It took years for me to realize it was all a lie, a cruel hoax perpetrated on innocent children by jaded grownups who had lost their sense of wonder somewhere along the line. Once I came to that realization, I might have followed a dark and twisted path, but thankfully, that didn’t happen. Instead, I decided to become Santa Claus; to make his story, my story.
I don’t mean that my dear wife and I pulled up stakes and moved to the North Pole to manage a toy shop, or that I learned to drive a reindeer-driven sleigh, or that I took chimney-diving lessons. I didn’t go to the gym to put on the little extra muscle I would surely need to haul that heavy pack of Christmas plunder to every house in town. All that seemed a bridge too far. Instead, I went out and bought a Santa suit and practiced a jolly belly laugh, biding my time until I would make my first appearance as Santa at Grandma Dar’s Christmas party.
It wasn’t an easy gig. I had to show up as me, one of the many multi-generational guests at this annual family affair. In-laws and outlaws, nieces and nephews, cousins galore. Then, after things got going, I had to slip away unnoticed and descend into the bowels of the nursing home to don my gay apparel and retrieve the bag of goodies I had stowed away down there. (The goodies, by the way, were dozens and dozens of individually monogrammed towels which the elves had been manufacturing for the past several months. Don’t ask me why towels were the gift of choice; that was Dar’s idea, and she’s been up in heaven for the past four years.)
Anyway, now suited in red, buffeted with pillows (I needed fewer and fewer as the years went by), bearded, and capped, I would make my way back upstairs in the elevator. It was always a wonderful moment when the doors opened and a senior citizen saw me standing there in all my Santa splendor. In that moment, a neglected inner child would reawaken, the years melted away, and Christmas was not just another day in winter’s dreary string.
As I made my way down the long corridor that led to Dar’s door, I began my jolly Ho-Ho-Hos a few doors away. When I finally got there (it was a long corridor!), I would knock, someone would open the door, and merry chaos would ensue. The kids’ eyes would pop, and all the adults would play dumb which gave me plenty of time to lay a few spontaneous one-liners on the crowd before I was enthroned next to Dar. I would call the littlest ones first, passing out all those towels, family-by-family. The kids bought the act; I don’t remember even one lap-wailer, but maybe that’s selective recall.
Once the towels and gifts were finally distributed, I made sure I got a little lap time with my favorite elf and some of her lovely sisters, and of course, Dar. (Dar especially loved Santa’s lap!) Then it was time to make my exit before the teens began to look at Santa suspiciously, or one of the wee ones yanked on my beard too hard. I’d like to think I got away clean, but as the years went by and the little ones grew up, I think maybe some of them wised up.
I gave up that gig after Dar died. It just wasn’t the same, and the little ones were growing up way too fast. We all still celebrate Christmas, but now it’s by making gingerbread houses. None of the next generation stepped up, so my Santa suit went to the local consignment shop where it sold in the blink of an eye. Some jolly old man with a hearty laugh bought it on the spot. Sigh.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. His new novel “This Salted Soil,” a new children’s book, “The Ballad of Poochie McVay,” and two collections of essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.