Nick of Time
I met Santa Claus last night.
Really, I did; I’ll tell you about it. And the timing was perfect, since the lights have
not been in my favor.
Having grown up celebrating both, Christmas and Chanukah to me are one amalgamated Festival of Lights. The pagans who first dressed up evergreens in the winter had a great idea: For those of us who live in a highly seasonal region like the Northeastern USA, brightening things up as the weather turns cold and sunlight is at
its briefest, well, it helps — not to slight beliefs and traditions commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple or the birth of the Messiah, nor to a general focus on peace, love, and charity.
But I couldn’t find my box of holiday stuff in my mother’s house this year. It’s a large house, granted, and there’s been lots of redistribution of storage amongst the attic, basement, and living spaces recently; still, the box has to be somewhere. As usual, I’d waited until the week before Christmas, though, and by the time it occurred to me to simply buy new lights I had done a real number on my back moving a bunch of other stuff around, laying me out for several days. Next year I’ll search early and often, as I refuse to concede that the stuffed Grinch and the Santa Claus blanket and the ornaments and the lights are just gone.
I barely got to enjoy the menorah, either, and not only because the discrepancy
between the Jewish and Gregorian calendars knocked Chanukah to the very beginning of December. Spending much of the past week in pain and as immobile as possible also meant that I wasn’t able to take in the last-minute bustle at the mall or do my annual Christmas Week drive to admire neighborhood decorations. Then came the capper to my recent Internet problems, as my little broadband doodad’s light went from green to orange this morning; according to the Doodad Company’s representative, while solid green is waiting and blinking green is connected orange is device needs to be exchanged for one that works.
Of course I considered the silver lining of not being distracted by online activity, its most exasperating aspects in particular, as Christmas approached. But I’d already planned to visit my grandparents, finally take that drive around the neighborhood, and then savor a quiet Christmas Eve before, hopefully, getting to see friends tomorrow; I really wasn’t going to do any more online than publish a post of Christmas memories and pop in on some blogs for last-minute Season’s Greetings.
I started out to my grandparents’ place and, not a mile down the road from home, waving to traffic — looking rather like he was trying to flag a car down, actually — was Santa. He was a sight for sore eyes, and, wouldn’t you know it, the light was in my favor for once; that is to say, the traffic light was red, there was nobody behind me, and there was a space at the curb. So I parked, walked half a block down to him, and shook the fellow’s hand.
“You know, I haven’t seen you in person for quite a while,” I told him. “I just wanted to say Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas!” he replied. “Thank you! It’s good to see you too.”
I turned to head back to my car when, perhaps having noted the grin on my face or something in my body language — or simply being Santa Claus — he said, “We could take a picture if you like.” For a brief moment, the spirit of cynicism enveloped me. He was standing in front of a couple of take-out joints — although his only interaction with the few people coming and going was to smile, wave, and bear good tidings — so I wondered if there was a catch, if after all he wasn’t a pretender trying to drum up business or even ask for charitable donations in return for A Photo with Santa!, not having pressed me earlier because I seemed so darned happy to see him. Then he added, “Do you have a camera phone?”
“No,” I said, relieved yet also feeling a bit antsy having left the car idling and now running late. “I appreciate the offer. And I don’t mean to rush, but I’m on my way to my grandparents’.”
“Well,” he fairly twinkled as he took the sack from over his shoulder. “You could bring them some candy.” The open mouth of his modestly sized bag was dark as he faced it towards me, and I could imagine a vast, extradimensional wonderland beyond the shadows.
“One of them is diabetic, and both of them are Jewish,” I told him, face to face, since you don’t lie to Santa Claus — besides, it’s not like he didn’t already know.
He laughed a reassuring laugh, the way only Santa can, and said, “That’s all right.”
“Maybe just a candy cane for me,” I told him, and reached into the bag to close my hand around... a candy cane. “Thank you very much, and Merry Christmas again!”
I won’t swear that he said “Merry Christmas, Brian,” as I went back to the car, despite my never having told him my name, but I won’t swear that he didn’t.
Five minutes later I pulled up to my grandparents’ place as the radio station took a break from Christmas songs to provide a radar update on Santa’s progress. According to NORAD, the sleigh had stopped at several islands in the Atlantic Ocean and was speeding to South America, with Santa expected on the Eastern seaboard by midnight local time as usual.
I knew better.
Oh, I have no doubt that the reindeer were crossing the sky exactly where they were supposed to be; however, I also know that Santa Claus is anywhere, is everywhere, that he needs to be.
A split-second decision at that red traffic light, and the man in the red suit, made my Christmas Eve. I hope that something equally magical made yours.
Related: I Melt with You • Stocking Stuff • Christmas + 1