Christmas means so much to little kids for so many reasons including: One of the most important times at their church, days off of school, Christmas tree hunting and decorating, specials on television, presents, lots of special sweets, and just that general holiday spirit that fills homes and communities. Probably the biggest part of Christmas though that makes the season so special to kids in a way that adults can no longer feel is Santa Claus. But let me get a little more specific. Kids just don’t enjoy Christmas as much as they do because of Santa Claus himself but rather because of the magic of Santa Claus. Sure, the physical presence of the big fat man in a red suit with an overflowing white beard carrying a big sack of toys is very significant but it is more about the legend and mystique of Kris Kringle that makes the holiday so special.
Yes, I used to be one of those children who cherished Santa Claus and who really held a special place in my little kid heart for him. As I grew older and as I stopped believing, Christmas was never really the same to me. Even though I gained a better appreciation for what the holiday truly is meant for, that magic that I am going to keep referring to throughout this post dimmed quite a bit. For tonight, I wish to recall the five aspects of the Santa Claus experience that I still look back on today with very fond and distinctive memories. Why tonight? Maybe because with the conclusion of the Thanksgiving weekend it is now officially Christmas season. Or maybe it is because I just saw“Rise of the Guardians” and am in the Santa Claus mood. Or maybe it was the fact that tonight at church they had the Giving Trees set up, a wonderful opportunity to pass on the magic of Santa to those who are less fortunate. Most likely, it is combination of all three of those reasons. Thank you for letting me share my Santa experiences with you.
1. Santa Letters: Each year once December would hit, I would sit down at our kitchen table and write a letter to Santa. In the very early years I would tell my parents what I wanted the letter to say and they would draft it for me. After I learned to write, I would compose the letter myself with my mom helping me with spelling. I would try to butter Santa up with as many compliments as possible, ask him a couple questions, and then hit him with my list. I would then put the letter in an envelope, simply address it as “Santa Claus – North Pole”, and place it in the mailbox.
Little kids don’t forget. I checked the mail every single day after I sent my letter. Although I would grow impatient, I would always get a response from Santa. Arriving in a Christmas themed envelope and composed on special Santa stationary, I would read the letter over and over (or my Mom would). Having that personal correspondence with Santa made me feel so special, something that I could show to my friends and brag about…until they got their own letter of course. You see, at school we would always write letters to Santa as well. This would come after I had written my first letter to him. Nonetheless, I still loved doing it and still waited in anticipation for a response which also always came. Usually, our response at school came from one of Santa’s elves, making it so Santa wouldn’t contradict himself in the response he had already given me.
As I made my way through elementary school, I later became one of those “Santa’s elves.” Having the opportunity to respond to the letters that had as much love and awe as the ones I sent just a few years earlier provided me with quite a bit of joy. I took the task very seriously and tried as hard as possible to pass the magic on.
2. Fire Truck Santa: When I moved out of Spokane, I felt a sense of shock that not all places paraded Santa Claus around in fire trucks through neighborhoods. One of the most special Santa memories I have was when the Spokane Fire Department would come by my street during their December food drive. With about three Christmas decorated fire vehicles in line (with one carrying Santa in the back), the procession would go through neighborhoods, stopping to let kids sit on Santa’s lap in exchange for a can or two of food.
Santa would always hit my neighborhood when my brother, sister, and myself had been put to bed. My parents would awaken all of us, excitedly telling us that Santa was in the neighborhood. They would quickly dress us in our winter clothes and take us outside where we would join all of our friends and their parents as we waited for Santa to get closer. As the sirens grew louder and we could hear the public address system on the truck announcing Santa’s arrival, we got very excited and a little nervous too. Then, it truly became a sight when the procession would turn onto our street as the flashing fire lights combined with the Christmas lights attached onto the vehicles made for a beautiful Christmas scene.
The unique experience of seeing Santa on a fire truck late at night after already going to bed and spending it with your friends who had also already gone to bed as well will always be fondly engrained in my head.
3. Santa at Church: The Sunday before Christmas, Santa Claus would always visit my church after all masses. As a kid, it was my understanding that the Santas I saw at the mall, ringing bells outside the super market, and even the one on the fire truck were all “Santa’s Helpers.” I knew they were not the real Santa, just people working for him. However, the Santa who visited my church was different. My parents told me that he was the real Santa and I took my visit with him very seriously. Sitting in his chair in the old community center of my hometown church, he just seemed different and more important than all the other Santas I saw previous to him that year…I knew he was special.
A few things stuck out about the Santa at church. First, he was always the same guy for all the years I attended church there (just a nice, loyal member of the Knights of Columbus I would later learn). Second, I would always get a free polaroid photo with him. I loved getting the photo and shaking it, anxiously waiting for the image to appear. Those polaroids are the only Santa pictures I have growing up. Third, he would always give us a LARGE candy cane. No, he did not give us the miniature candy canes that are always broken, he gave us the big ones! Church Santa was always special and he received a much different level of reverence from me.
4. Awaiting Santa: To go along with my point that this post is more about the magic of Santa rather than Santa himself, perhaps I didn’t get any more excited and involved in the holiday season than during Christmas Eve. Even though I didn’t see him or get correspondence with him, nothing beats the anticipation of a kid on Christmas Eve. I will never forget scoping the skies coming back from our Christmas Eve gathering with my dad’s side of the family to my grandparents’ house where we were staying. Looking for Santa’s sleigh with my brother and sister in the Walla Walla sky was something we always did. When we arrived at the house, we put together a plate of baked goods and wrote Santa a letter. My parents would urge us to go to bed so Santa could come and deliver the gifts. Although I knew in the back of my mind that he would always come, I still felt a sense of nervousness that he might skip us over that particular year. But my excitement definitely overshadowed those nerves and I always went to bed a very happy boy.
5. Christmas Morning: Waking up on Christmas morning was exhilarating. My brother and I would run up the stairs and into my grandparents’ living room where we were lucky enough to see large packages that were not there the night before. We would then look to the fireplace where the plate of cookies/candy had been. The plate would be empty and a reply to our note would be there. Too dumb to know that it was my mom’s handwriting, it would talk about what good kids we were, how more presents would be waiting for us in Spokane, and how he had given the peanut brittle we left him to his reindeer. Knowing that Santa had taken the time to hit our house and deliver gifts while also taking time to write a note absolutely made my Christmas morning and strengthened my belief in him, especially during those early years. Kind of weird, but I would always want to keep the wrapping paper from the gifts that Santa had delivered, thinking it was sort of sacred since it had to have come from the North Pole. I also scoured the area, trying to see if Santa had mistakenly left anything behind or if any strands from his suit had fallen off while in our residence. Although my searches for “extras” went to no avail, I always had a deep appreciation and awe for the amazing Santa.
To this day, I am very sensitive and joyful around kids who still believe in Santa. I know I have already said this word numerous times in this post but it is just that magic that exists that brightens a whole kid’s outlook on life. Although I obviously still don’t believe in Santa (ever heard of a 26 year old guy who does?) I love everything about the mythical legend of Santa Claus. I love Santa movies, Santa crafts, Santa ornaments, and people who can tastefully and believably dress up as him. You can bet that I have already been searching #Santa on Instagram. Have a great Christmas season everyone, HO HO HO! Don’t Blink.