The Magic of Santa
I began to believe that the magic of Santa Clause at Christmas was gone, at least for me. It just seemed like it was part of the price we pay for growing up. Once I got into the middle years of elementary school, the excitement I felt as a child on Christmas Eve and the following morning faded.
Then, as I got older, I had kids of my own. Sharing Christmas with them brought a new kind of excitement and anticipation. True, I spent a few late nights cursing at the instructions included with a "some-assembly-required" present, but it was worth it to see the expressions on the faces of the kids the next day. Now, the youngest of my three kids is 14 years old. Of course, they all still love Christmas, and everyone enjoys it as a special family day, but no one leaves milk and cookies out for Santa anymore. The magic and mystery of Santa Claus at Christmas is quietly, patiently waiting for their children. At least that's what I thought.
My wife Linda works for Mercedes Homes in Melbourne. As part of their community outreach program, they provide limited support for a children's foster home in town. About a dozen kids are living there at any given time, having been removed from their own homes for one reason or another. Their ages range from newborn to early teens. Once a month, someone from the Mercedes office drops off some food for the kids and they also provide a few needed odds and ends to the home throughout the year. At Christmas time, some folks from the office come by and decorate a tree, frost some cupcakes and bring more than a few presents. Some of those are presented by Santa Claus on the evening of the Christmas party, others are secretly left behind for Christmas morning.
This year there was a problem. They needed a new Santa Claus for the party. As soon as I heard they needed one, I cringed inside. I knew what was coming. It was inevitable. After all, my name is Nicholas, my hair is practically white, I have a beard and while my stomach doesn't quite shake "like a bowl full of jelly" when I laugh (yet), I hesitate to go to the mall at Christmas time. I'm always afraid small children will want to sit on my lap and tell me their Christmas wishes.
I didn't have to wait long. Only a few minutes after telling me that they needed a Santa, the pleading eyes and smiling requests were cranked up into full gear. At first I refused, but after a couple of days of prodding, begging and bribery (including large pieces of chocolate) I reluctantly agreed, even though I'd never done the Santa gig before.
The night of the party arrived before I knew it and it was time to get ready. It took a while to get into the suit. The wig was hot and the beard so big and fuzzy, it was a little hard to breathe without steaming up the glasses. With all of that white hair, the hat and the pillow stuffed into my suit, my vision was a little restricted too. Before I left the house though, I checked myself out in the mirror. Wow. Santa. I practiced a few HO-HO-HO's and off I went in my General Motors sleigh.
There are few words that can describe the feeling of walking into a room full of children while you're dressed as Santa Claus. They saw me; their eyes, actually their whole faces lit up and they all ran right for me. I was overwhelmed. Practically shouting 'Merry Christmas!" over the din of screaming kids, I waded through the crowd returning their hugs as best I could.
One little boy, wearing a bright green stocking cap, repeatedly insisted, "I'm your elf! I'm your elf!" I told him that he was a good little elf and turned to the next child who was telling or asking me something. ("Are you the real Santa?" "Where are your reindeer"?) All of them it seemed were desperate for the attention of Santa Claus.
As I was sitting down, preparing to hand out presents, another boy, one of the older children, quietly approached and asked if I knew whether he had been good or bad. I smiled at him, tried my very best warm Santa chuckle and told him "Yes, I do..." Still smiling, I winked at him and added "...and so do you!" He broke into a great big sheepish grin and looked at me as if we shared the special secret of his good and bad behavior. I found out later, he was the oldest of 6 members of the same family staying at the home.
As I was passing out presents, the children would approach my chair when their name was called out. Their eyes wide, they were practically dizzy with the excitement of the moment. In anticipation of the mystery beneath the wrapping paper of the box they were handed, they rushed off to rip open the package as quickly as possible.
Amid the flurry of flying paper and the shouting of (mostly) happy children, one of them walked quietly back up to see me. It was my little green-capped elf, wanting to sit on my lap. I pulled him up and leaned in to hear what he had to say. He looked up at me and said "Santa... when you go... will you take me with you?" I didn't know what to say. While I didn't know specifics about each child, I knew the types of issues that brought them to the foster home. My heart immediately went out to my little elf. Again, I tried my very best Santa smile, but it wasn't as easy this time. I told him "I could… but I think they would miss you here... don't you?'' He seemed a little surprised by that answer but he was apparently satisfied and headed off to play with his new racecar.
As all of this was going on, little Caitlin was trying on every single piece of clothing in her princess dress-up kit, Jerome was negotiating a toy trade with another child and my green-capped elfin friend was racing his car over the floor. I realized that my part of the evening was over. I stood up and over the holiday noise, I boomed out one last "Merry Christmas!" The children rushed me yet again, for a goodbye hug from Santa. I spent a quick moment with each beaming child and smiled as I walked out the door. With their "Thank you, Santa!" cries still echoing in my ears, I couldn't help but think "No. Thank you. Thank you for reminding me... for showing me the magic of Santa Claus at Christmas again." I already knew I'd be back next year.