The Spirit of Santa Doesn't Wear A Red Suit
I slouched down in the passenger seat of our old Pontiac ’cause it was the cool way to sit when one is in the fourth grade. My dad was driving downtown to shop and I was going along for the ride. At least that’s what I had told him -- actually I had an important question to ask that had been on my mind for a couple of weeks and this was the first time I had been able to maneuver myself into his presence without being overt about it.
“Dad...” I started. And stopped.
“Yup?” he said.
“Some of the kids at school have been saying something and I know it’s not true.” I felt my lower lip quiver from the effort of trying to hold back the tears I felt threatening the inside corner of my right eye -- it was always the one that wanted to cry first.
“What is it, Pumpkin?” I knew he was in a good mood when he used this endearment.
“The kids say there is no Santa Claus.” Gulp. One tear escaped. “They say I’m dumb to believe in Santa anymore...it’s only for little kids.” My left eye started with a tear on the inside track.
“But I believe what you told me. That Santa is real. He is, isn’t he, Dad?”
Up to this point we had been cruising down Newell Avenue, which in those days a two-lane road lined with oak trees. At my question, my dad glanced over at my face and body position. He pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the car. Dad turned off the engine and moved over closer to me, his still-little girl huddled in the corner.
“The kids at school are wrong, Patty. Santa Claus is real.”
“I knew it!” I heaved a sigh of relief.
“But there is more I need to tell you about Santa. I think you’re old enough to understand what I am going to share with you. Are you ready?” My dad had a warm gleam in his eyes and a soft expression on his face. I knew something big was up and and I was ready, ’cause I trusted him completely. He would never lie to me.
“Once upon a time there was a real man who traveled the world and gave away presents to deserving children wherever he went. You will find him in many lands with different names, but what he had in his heart was the same in every language. In America we call him Santa Claus. He is the spirit of unconditional love and the desire to share that love by giving presents from the heart. When you get to a certain age, you come to realize that the real Santa Claus is not the guy who comes down your chimney on Christmas Eve. The real life and spirit of this magical elf lives forever in your heart, my heart, Mom’s heart and in the hearts and minds of all people who believe in the joy that giving to others brings. The real spirit of Santa becomes what you can give rather than what you get. Once you understand this and it becomes a part of you, Christmas becomes even more exciting and more magical because you come to realize the magic comes from you when Santa lives in your heart. Do you understand what I am trying to tell you?”
I was gazing out the front window with all my concentration at a tree in front of us. I was afraid to look at my dad -- the person who had told me all my life that Santa was a real being. I wanted to believe like I believed last year -- that Santa was a big fat elf in a red suit. I did not want to swallow the grow-up pill and see anything different.
“Patty, look at me.” My dad waited. I turned my head and looked at him.
Dad had tears in his eyes, too -- tears of joy. His face shone with the light of a thousand galaxies and I saw in his eyes the eyes of Santa Claus. The real Santa Claus. The one who spent time choosing special things I wanted for all the Christmases past since the time I had come to live on this planet. The Santa who ate my carefully decorated cookies and drank the warm milk. The Santa who probably ate the carrot I left for Rudolph. The Santa who -- despite his utter lack of mechanical skills -- put together bicycles, wagons and otehr miscellaneous items during the wee hours of Christmas mornings.
I got it. I got the joy, the sharing, the love. My dad pulled me to him in a warm embrace and just helds me for what seemed the longest time. We both cried.
“Now you belong to a special group of people,” Dad continued. “You will share in the joy of Christmas from now on, every day of the year, not only on a special day. For now, Santa lives in your heart just like he lives in mine. It is your responsibility to fulfill the spirit of giving as your part of Santa living inside of you. This is one of the most important things that can happen to you in your whole life, because now you know that Santa Claus cannot exist without people like you and me to keep him alive. Do you think you can handle it?”
My heart swelled with pride and I’m sure my eyes were shining with excitement. “Of course, Dad. I want him to be in my heart, just like he’s in yours. I love you, Daddy. You’re the best Santa there ever was in the whole world.”
When it comes time in my life to explain the reality of Santa Claus to my children, I pray to the spirit of Christmas that I will be as eloquent and loving as my dad was the day I learned that the spirit of Santa Claus doesn’t wear a red suit. And I hope they will be as receptive as I was that day. I trust them totally and I think they will.