The Real Thing

Santa Claus is a transcendent figure indeed, one that is known – in some form or other – in most corners of the “civilized” world. How many, however, can actually say that they’ve actually seen the jolly old elf?

I’m not talking about in cartoons, clay-mation, parades or at the local mall. I mean in person, in his sleigh, rising through the air and led by those eight tiny reindeer and the shiny red nose?

It was 1975. We lived on Fontana Lane in Dallas, and it was Christmas Eve. My expectations of the next morning were glossy, shimmering in the way that they can only be when you’re five. My brothers and I were all ready for bed, and could barely contain ourselves.

Once safely tucked in – my brothers were in one room and I was in another – I was bouncing off walls. I remember that it felt like hours as I paced the few steps my room afforded me, stopping every few laps to pull back the curtain and look outside for what I knew to be Santa’s imminent arrival.

Somehow, though I knew he was coming, I didn’t imagine that I’d actually see him arrive; he was too large a figure, philosophically, to actually comprehend. It was, rather, the imperative of anticipation, not the actual event that enthralled me. You can imagine my surprise then, when from the right hand corner of the sky, in all it’s glory, I witnessed Santa fly – with amazing speed and grace – right down into our neighborhood. There was no mistaking it.

I can see it just as plain in my mind now as I could more than three decades ago. I can hear those bells. In a panic, lest I should anger the great fat man and receive coal in my stocking – though we didn’t even have stockings – instead of the Star Trek Dolls and Enterprise Bridge Command that I so coveted, I jumped back in bed, covered my head and promptly fell asleep.

It doesn’t matter that the Santa that so proudly and ably piloted his sleigh down into our neighborhood was a dead ringer for the image of Santa that dominated the books I was reading and the cartoons and TV shows I was watching at the time – the Santa Claus popularized by Thomas Nast in the 19th century and co-opted so masterfully by Coca-Cola in the 20th.

I do actually know, just as an FYI, that Santa doesn’t exist and that too much excitement, or sugar – or both – made me see what I saw, but the image is still crystal clear.

In fact, it’s the same caricature that I still see when I think of the season. It’s either a testament to the fevered imagination of a 5-year-old, or a tribute to Nast’s enduring rendering of Kris Kringle. You choose.

While I still wistfully wish to this day that I could re-capture the childhood exuberance that imparted such magic to that morning, what I really wish I still had are those Star Trek dolls and the Enterprise Bridge Command. If I had kept it, along with so many of my other toys, and never opened them, played with them and used them until they crumbled in my hands – or melted in a fire – then I would probably have my daughter’s college education already funded.

Fun as a kid? Security as an adult? What does one have to do with the other? That’s right, nothing. Oh well…

A good season to you all.