I saw Santa at the Children’s Museum with a feather of a child pleading her case. They were locked in discussion, a confessional of sorts, as she entered into detail of her every Christmas wish.
Hands, eyes, and all of her face enticed Santa closer lest he miss a detail living so clearly inside her head.
“Oh, you want, oh, I see it. Why yes, of course. Perfectly,” Santa said, his voice tapering off into her ear. “I will see what I can do about that.”
Then she nestled into his side, her shoulders comfortably enveloped by his plush red suit as if to declare her mission accomplished.
He was a perfect depiction of everything I imagined him to be and the sight easily immersed me in the voices and music of my own Christmases past.
Santa came all year round to our home. I’d look through the window in April or mid-August and Santa would be strolling up the driveway on his return from visits to every home on the street.
He’d be wearing Dad’s shoes and one of his ties underneath the tatty red coat, but I knew better than to expose his identity.
I wanted to believe in Santa and he in turn needed me to believe. Such faith had rewards. I knew better than to dash my own hopes. I wasn’t ready to lose my trust in Santa for anyone and certainly not by my own hand.
He couldn’t resist visits to the whole neighborhood and would drop in from time to time and inspire children toward good behavior, perfect obedience, and remind them to count their blessings one by one.
At every appearance in our home we’d sing, “The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot” and we’d all have to cry. He insisted on it.
The lines “He didn’t have a daddy” and “went home to play with last year’s broken toys,” really got us going.
It was clear he sang to all the children of the world who’d had to skip childhood and who had known poverty; children whose fathers had gone to war or whose fathers or mothers had fled their families.
Donning the suit, surprising the children, was our Santa’s way of making the world right.
His visits created intrigue in the neighborhood, and to every child he repeated the promise that this Christmas, no child on this street would be forgotten.
As far as I could tell, none ever was.
The last Christmas we had together was in August of 1994. We were riding in a car and in the curves of Bluff Road when spontaneously he began to sing, “Christmas comes but once a year.”
The car became a holy place as I heard once more of the boy who “wrote a note to Santa for some soldiers and a drum and it broke his little heart to find Santa hadn’t come.”
The tears we both shed required no encouragement for we both somehow knew this would be the last time he’d sing this nostalgic hymn.
Now this old song tops my list of Christmas songs.
The melody emerges randomly in my awareness, most particularly when faced with children who are in need. I have had to silence it at all times of the year.
It was the little girl’s confidence, Santa’s grace, and the loving parents looking from the side that caught my attention last week.
She touched his flowing beard and told him her every Christmas dream and I found myself listing my own requests with childlike zeal.
It gave me renewed hope that you and I, the real Santas of the world, could deliver a more hopeful tomorrow for “those little girls and boys that Santa Claus forgot.”
The Rev. Rod Smith is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in New Castle. He contributes to the Faith Perspective column.