This year it was chilly. Even with gloves and hoods pulled up we still had cold toes. I was standing with my 9 year old and 12 year old as the last entry in the parade drove by.
There was a real white-bearded, fairly slim Santa, cheerful and waving, inviting us to the park for hot chocolate, cookies and toys,
"...lots of toys. I have a full truck load of toys! Ho! Ho! Ho!"
"Is it free?" I wondered. I only had three $1 bills I had found in one of my coat pockets searching for my gloves.
Sam really wanted to go so we walked the two blocks north to the park, away from the direction I had parked the car at the bowling alley just before the parade began.
A line was forming, snaking along the sidewalk from a little Santa cottage that is there year round. I had noticed the sign at the park before, "Santa's line starts here" but didn't know the tradition behind it.
The middle school band played Christmas music under the pavilion. Santa posed with the City Council members, including our own Grandma Sandy. Sponge Bob, Dora the Explorer, The Cat in the Hat, Frosty and the high school Eagle mascot entertained the line. They walked up and down the line "working the crowd" and posing for personal photos.
I asked my children what they would tell Santa they needed. Sam said "Halo Reach" and then had to explain to me what that even meant. Roxie corrected me and said "No Mom! It's not what I need, it's what I WANT! " Which would be a webkin wolf.
Santa's elf helpers (four of them) were line the control directors. To keep Santa from getting stormed with children?
I asked one elf, "What is the difference between Vulcan ears and elf ears?"
"Who you work for!" she said.
Then she told that me that she started coming to the park after the parade when she was seven years old, and he has been the same Santa all these years. She's eighteen now. She told that the Santa is the same Santa every single year. He buys the toys himself, puts together all the gift bags with Mrs. Santa. He also goes to the soup kitchens and the Boys and Girls' clubs.
It is what he does. He does it all. He's always done it. He looks the part, just a healthier version of the jolly old chap.
We waited for our turn and Sam went first. As Santa reached for an age-appropriate gift bag he asked Mrs. Santa to run get the soccer balls out of the truck. It ended up being a volley ball, but we didn't mind. We forgave Santa that easily.
As Roxie sat on his lap, looking a little unsure about what to tell him now that she was up close, he looked in her eyes and said he could tell that she was a good girl. He asked her if she said her prayers.She nodded. He said that he could tell she did. It showed in her face. He then asked her to always remember the real reason for the Season and how important He is. He is why we celebrate giving because of everything He has given to us.
I was nodding my head as the tears streamed down my face.
Santa gave Roxie a clear plastic gift bag full of all kinds of things she had collected. Then he stood up and came the three steps over to me and hugged me.
I cried harder.
He patted my back, handed me a huge candy cane, grabbed a big Simba stuffed animal and gave it to me. Then he smiled and said "It's OK Mama."
Why such an emotional response?
I felt like a little kid again.
I was thinking of all my early Santa wishes, the ones were he would make everything that had made me sad all better and he would bring me what I really needed (read: wanted). I remembered the early years of our marriage when we didn't want to lie to our children about make-believe stories and so we boycotted Santa-- even town to decorations on our tree. I remembered our change to gradually accept him as culturally relevant and important and watching in amazement as our older children perpetuated the Santa myth great enthusiasm. They didn't miss a single detail, including the instruction on the etiquette of cookie leaving for Santa. Their younger siblings ate it all up.
And, my growing understanding of the spiritual similarities between the symbolism of Santa and Christ as a Giver of Life, not just wrapped seasonal gifts.
It was complicated but really simple, too. I felt such love and amazement at this sweet, kind and thoughtful Santa. I felt so blessed to hear his testimony to my daughter as he taught her of the real meaning of Christmas.
We walked the four blocks back to the bowling alley and our car, hardly noticing our cold toes any more because our hearts were warm.
Sam is thrilled with his volley-soccer ball and I saw Roxie playing with a stuffed wolf from our Santa last night.
I am thankful for all the Santa's everywhere, but especially mine. I will wait in line for him next year, snow, rain, wind or cold.
With or without my children.
~ Jennilyn Babcock Landbeck