“Now, where did I park that sleigh…”
The last of my annual transformations has taken place. At the end of my trek on Canyon Road on Christmas Eve, I took off my cap and placed it with my own sense of reverence into the storage bin that will house “Old Saint Nick” through the warm summer months here in Santa Fe until next December. I fold each item carefully and with a sense of gratitude for being able to participate in the joy so many people share during this holiday season. I polish the boots before they are entombed until next year and stuff the belly pillow into the box as well. I know that "The Night Before Christmas" describes me with “a broad face and a little round belly, that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly,” but my vanity in old age pushes me to avoid all the cookies and milk offered by the little ones. I need that old pillow strapped to me—at least for now.
The beard is always another matter, altogether. With the latex prosthetic adhesive attaching my flowing white beard to the real one beneath, it is a herculean task to remove the artificial one and leave enough of the real one still anchored in the skin on my face.
On Christmas morning I am left with the warm recollections of the time I spent with little ones and even adults—at events, walking downtown and on Canyon Road. It is the dialogue with our eyes, with our words that I cherish. The first look in a child’s eyes in a “chance” encounter with Santa on the street is quite wonderful. There are the shy ones who hide behind their parents, but most often there is a burst of recognition and, often, they break loose from the adults and come running. And, the hugs… There is no way to describe these.
Sometimes we talk, sometimes we just look at each other. Of course I wish them a Merry Christmas, either when I first see them or when I leave and move on to others. Talking can, sometimes, be tricky.
Over the years I have had to learn to be quite agile in my defense of the defenseless: “Where is your sleigh…how do you get all of the toys in the sleigh…do you know where I live?” There is no manual. I have to be quick of mind and think on my feet. With practice, some of these answers are easy, some less so. When one little guy asked me “do you know where I live?” I quickly replied “yes, I do," and thought I had made him feel secure. To which he replied with another, more pleading question: “do you REALLY know where I live?" If quizzed much further for specifics, I have an answer ready: “The reindeer know the way.”
But it is always the “what do you want for Christmas” question that links me to each child. The answers are as varied as the lives of these children. The requests are sometimes simple, sometimes challenging. The young one who, on Christmas Eve, said she wanted a pony, bringing a startled look into the parents’ eyes; I found, with a little prodding, to be hoping for a cuddly stuffed pony to sleep with her. Sometimes the children startle you with their sense of love, joy and compassion. On Canyon Road a girl of, perhaps, nine or ten only wanted: ”all my friends and family to have a wonderful Christmas.” And, you wonder why Santa has a tear in his eye?
The joys that these young people brought to me this Christmas will last throughout the year and so I say: “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night” - at least until next year. Now, where DID I park that sleigh?