CHRISTMAS EVE was always a magical night for me as a child, as it continues to be for many of the more fortunate children of the world. Just the thought of a large elfin man dressed in a red suit being flown around the world in a sleigh pulled through the sky by flying reindeer, excited my imagination more than the toys and other gifts that were left for me when I awoke the next morning. Always early, always after a fitful night's sleep, I always hoped I could catch him in the act. But he always got away—not before he left an array of toys that I asked for and other surprises for which I didn't. I was one of the lucky ones. A lot of children aren't so fortunate. And some children understand that it's not about what you ask for, but about the spirit in which you ask. Leaving Santa a plate of cookies and a tall glass milk for his troubles was a resonant part of the evening. Of course, I also left carrots for Rudolph and the other reindeer.
WHEN YOU are at the age you stop believing in Santa, it's also easy to stop believing in the magic that is always around us. If you're looking, and sometimes if you're not, you'll encounter people (and sometimes things) right under your nose that—against all odds—hold close and dear, the very spirit of the holiday season. The best gifts in life are the ones that you don't expect. Knowing someone who recognizes the magic of the world is one of life's great treasures. If you blink around such a person, they might just disappear.
ONE SUCH person is my friend Ron Bartlett, who is also a coworker. Since we spend a great deal of our lives at work, it's nice to find people there who can share your dreams and ideas beyond work, lending you their gracious support. I have to say, if it weren't for Ron being such an effusive supporter for what I am trying to do with this blog, I don't know if I could muster the energy to do it in the way that I do. Having people in your life that expect the best and truest part of your soul to be expressed by what you do makes it all worthwhile. I thank Ron for that.
THE FUNNY thing is that Ron looks a lot like Santa Claus. He's a big jolly man, who never fails to make me smile when that spirit of life takes leave—as it often does in the daily grind of work. Early in his life, he even was Santa for some lucky kids in California. I asked him to share something from this experience. And he wrote down this heartwarming story:
At 60 years of age I still believe in Santa.
Understand that and what follows comes easily:
I WAS BLESSED to play Santa for one of the busiest McDonald’s in the world one year. Being skinny at the time, freshly back from the Vietnam War, I took a lot of padding to play the part. (Which, unfortunately, is no longer true!)
Sitting on my Santa throne, elf helpers guiding kids to and fro, I went through a good 250 kids, all telling me (in no uncertain terms) what toys to bring them on Christmas Eve. Understandable seasonal selfishness was rampant.
And then it came the turn of a young girl, probably 8 years old, who brought ME a present. She brought a present for Santa. It was wrapped as prettily as only an 8 year old who believes in magic can wrap. It was perfect. I was touched.
She climbed upon my knee and I asked what she wanted Santa to bring her. Her reply was instant and sure. She assured me I did not need to bring her any toys . . . or dresses or anything at all. She stammered out that she had been a very good girl and done all her chores and helped her Mommy and Daddy every day. So I asked her what she wanted Santa to bring. She said that all she wanted was for me to make her baby brother better. He had cancer and was very sick. And would I please make him all better?
You ever have one of those lumps in your throat the size of a Hyundai? I did. My eyes watered. One of the older women elves knew what was coming next as Santa was about to bawl his eyes out and she whisked me away, telling the children and parents left there it was time for me to feed the reindeer.
I hid out in the business office for over an hour letting out the plethora of emotions from a war-wearied heart. I never did go back on Santa duty that day and never will again—even now that I really do look like Santa.
So, did the child get her Christmas miracle? I have no idea. But I DO KNOW that child gave me the best gift of my life—the gift of HEART, which has remained with me all through the years.
SO THERE you have it. Even though I haven't believed in Santa for years, I have understood that he is not really a person at all. Instead, Santa is that undeniable spirit of life that keeps you on track and moving in the direction of your dreams. Santa is an idea, and Santa is forming that idea into reality in the workshop of your mind—a mind that can be as expansive as you let it be. My friend Ron knows that well. He reminds me almost daily at work with his happy disposition. He told me the little girl's physical gift to him was a small piece of wood she lovingly painted and carefully wrapped in her special magic. He says he has kept it all these years to remind him of the release of joyful tears she brought to him with her unselfish request for her little brother.
I THINK OF my parents often at the holidays. I remember how they created the magic of Santa for me all those years of my childhood. Now that they're both gone, I only have their memory and spirit. I remember my father and I lighting a White Pine with colored lights in our front yard until it grew too big to do so. And my mother nurtured the talent I have for decorating trees by giving me free reign with the family tree(s) after I was old enough. And I understand more fully than I ever have, that if you bring meaning to everything you do, then the spirit of Santa will surely and magically guide your sleigh, even if you're sixty like my jolly friend Ron and almost fifty like myself.
IS THERE a Santa Claus? My mother's last word to me was "Yes!" and her name was Virginia, so it makes perfect sense to me, that "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." This is the phrase made famous in a newspaper editorial written over 113 years ago. It remains the definitive treatise on believing:
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy."
IT'S NICE to have Santa as a friend. This is my gift to him. And you know what? I have to believe that the little girls (in both stories I share here) got their wish in one way or another, if only by inspiring generations of children, old and young alike, to believe in the magic and wonder of every holiday season.
SNACK FOR SANTA | (Top two photos) These two faux springerle molded "cookie" ornaments from Williams-Sonoma recall the German tradition of baking picturesque springerle cookies and hanging them on the tree.Three vintage bottle brush trees stand guard along with a glass of milk left for Santa on Christmas Eve.
SANTA BABY | (Middle) My friend and coworker Ron Bartlett at work as a Television Director/Editor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. We both work in the same office and I visit him almost daily to get a lift. He's living proof that Santa's spirit abounds.
SPRINGERLE SHAPES | (Above) My small collection of seasonal springerle molds, from which I plan to make either cookies or ornaments with one day. Good sources for the molds online are House on the Hill and Springerle Joy.
WORDS OF WISDOM | (Above, right) The original editorial that ran in the September 21, 1897 edition of The Sun of New York. This response to a little girl's question "Is there a Santa Claus?" spawned the oft-repeated phrase "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," which has become an indelible part of popular Christmas folklore in the United States and Canada. This philosophical editorial was written by Francis Pharcellus Church. We would all do well to read it at least once a year and remember to "continue to make glad the heart of childhood."
©2010 DARRYL MOLAND | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Photography, collecting and styling by Darryl Moland