I Believe In Santa
© Copyright 2018 by Lorrie Wolfe
I’m past sixty. I'm Jewish. But I still believe in Santa Claus. He is my husband.
For the past decade, my husband, who is not Jewish, has been Santa at the center of what has become the quintessential symbol of American Christmas — the shopping mall. He is there for more reasons than simply raising money for the mall. This is a job he undertakes seriously, although his demeanor is light. He knows that he is responsible for delivering the loving, accepting, kind heart of Christmas to both children and their parents.
He sits on a wide purple velvet throne and is the star of a theater set where children can get their picture taken with Santa. Their parents can buy photos, ornaments, key chains, and tchatchkas. He welcomes them all, whether posing for photos or simply wanting to talk to the man in the red suit.
Four assistants in matching red shirts move the line of children forward, help each child onto his lap, wave a squeaky toy to get their attention, and snap the picture.
He does this job from November tenth through Christmas Eve, staying in character until the last child has confessed their secret wish to the big man with the white beard. By the time he gets home, he has seen thousands of kids, from sleeping babies to twelve-year-olds who aren’t sure if he is real or just a nice man with whiskers. Many of them have tugged on his chin to see if the beard is real. It is.
They come with well-researched, typed lists containing precise descriptions and pictures from the internet, and they come with lists painstakingly printed in big letters onto blue-lined newsprint. They come with whispers and with excited declarations.
He is on the set from ten in the morning until eight at night, seven days a week. Because of this, he misses the rash of pre-Christmas parties and open houses, misses the polite conversations with co-workers one does not know well enough to ask about their children by name. He comes home bone-tired, inevitably with a cold that's been proffered by some child with a runny nose.
He and his assistants know that the best photo opportunity will be in the first ten seconds the child looks up at Santa. All of their delight, hope and trust will be on that little face in that moment, when the gentle, accepting Santa offers up the caring heart of Christmas to the tiny, true believer. That’s the face that parents want to memorialize, capture on film to send to family flung far across the country and to grandma visiting for the holiday week.
Not all photo ops work out so well. There is the child who has been at the mall for too long, whose tired eyes or even crying is captured, to become a family joke in later years as parents recall the moment, without the soundtrack that made the original event so full of frustration.
But that’s all okay. Many days, I find a safe distance, so I can watch him interact with the children. I’m proud and honored to be at least an observer of his stage set and unique presence.
He goes back each year because of moments like these.
A family enters, mother and father with two children. One boy is four. He knows about Santa and willingly approaches. He clambers up on Santa’s knee, eager and happy. His brother, who is not yet two, is a riskier business. He clings to mother’s shoulder, looking askance. This is, after all, a stranger, and a strange looking one at that. Father takes the boy, saying nervously to Santa that he doesn’t know if it will work, they will try to put him onto Santa’s lap. The photographer goes over and adjusts the big brother’s wrinkled pant leg to cover his sock. She goes back to the camera and gets ready to snap the shot as soon as the little one is in place.
There’s a trick Santa suggests, one he has learned that works for little ones who might be afraid to encounter the big red suit and unfamiliar face. As instructed, Father slides the smaller boy backwards onto Santa’s knee, never losing eye contact with his child.
The whole set is tensed, ready for a fearful squall to break out, knowing the parents hope to at least get one photo worth keeping. They all hold their breath.
The little boy turns his face and looks up at Santa. There is no sound. The boy looks at the beard, the unfamiliar face. His face is full of trust. He beams. Santa beams. Big brother smiles at his parents. The camera flashes. The entire set breathes, grins, all proud and relieved.
The magic captured, the printer spits out the five-by-sevens. The cash register dings.
Later that day, a little girl comes to Santa. She and her mother have waited in line a long time. She approaches shyly, unsure of what to do. Santa invites her to come closer, and with her chin down, she slowly climbs up onto his knee.
She is quiet. Santa waits for her to speak. She doesn’t make a sound. He asks if she knows what she would like for Christmas. She mumbles something he can’t quite understand. This is not unusual. He says, “Oh, I see,” as if he accepts her request.
Then he asks if she is being good. Her little face starts to crumple, as if burdened by a great weight. “Have you been having some problems lately?” he asks quietly, so only she can hear. She nods.
“Well, I know you are a good girl,” he says.
She looks shocked. She shakes her head — she does not believe him. It’s obvious that someone in her short life has told her that it isn’t true.
She asks, “I am a good girl?” Her eyes rise to his face, hopeful but doubting. “Really?”
“Yes, you are. Deep inside, I know you are good, and Santa is very proud of you.” He smiles gently and gives her a hug.
For the first time, her shoulders relax. She offers a shy smile, climbs down and starts to walk away. Then she pauses, turns, and looks back at his face. He nods gently. She turns again and walks toward her waiting mother, her step that of a happy, confident child.
Tikun Olam, goes an old Jewish saying. Heal the world.
It is an exhortation, an obligation placed on every adult, to do what one can to make the world a better place. We have another saying—To lift the heart of one child is to heal the entire world.
Wolfe is a technical writer and editor living in Windsor, Colorado.
She is passionate about volunteers, creating community, and about the
power of words to unite and move people. Her work has appeared in
Earth’s Daughters, Progenitor Journal, Tulip Tree Review,
Pilgrimage, and Pooled Ink. Her chapbook, Holding:
Shtetl to Santa, was published by Green Fuse Press
She edited and contributed to the 2017 poetry anthologies Mountains,
Myths & Memories and Going
was named Poet of the Year at Denver’s Ziggie’s Poetry
Festival for 2014-15.