July has become a natural time for me to think about Christmas. I, as do many, absolutely adore the Christmas season, and I begin to long for it in the hot month of July for so many reasons. So why not?
I’m a believer.
When there is inadequate evidence to support something I want to believe–something which enriches my life in some way–I often choose to believe it anyway. I’m good with Bigfoot, psychic powers, magic, aliens, ghosts, and God. Most adults believe in at least one of these. But what about Santa Claus?
What reason do I have to believe in Santa? I mean, I’m a dad, I have the inside track on what happens Christmas Eve. I know pretty much everything there is to know about the history of this bizarre, legendary figure. Am I really gonna sit here and tell you I believe in Santa?
Weeeeeeell, I believe in something. I believe in something akin to a momentary twinkle of the eye. I believe in something that keeps the magic of the Santa part of Christmas alive for me. There are three stories that help me.
When I was around 12 or 13, my twin and I shared a paper route. It was a great first job. Perhaps I’ll write about it another day. That year, the Norman Transcript decided to do a Christmas Eve paper. So after our Christmas Eve Candlelight service, my dad took me and Paul and my little brother, John, to deliver the paper. I’m not sure how late it was, but it was well past our bedtimes.
It wasn’t our usual route. Perhaps we had agreed to sub for somebody–a chance to earn a little extra money for Commodore 64 games and Pizza Shuttle pizza. We were driving south of Lindsey Street on Berry Road in Norman. Paul and I must have been rolling the special edition papers with rubber bands in the back of the station wagon. Then I caught a glimpse of something extraordinary. I told John to look up quick!
High in the sky, we saw a string (or strings) of lights gliding over Norman. Perhaps they were undulating a little. It was brief. The great maples and oaks of Berry soon obscured our vision. John was in his prime Santa years, six or seven. I wanted to encourage him so I said, “John! Did you see that? It was Santa and his sleigh!”
He was so excited, as would any small child be. But it left me privately puzzling. I thought I knew everything there was to know. But what had I seen this night? It happened so quick that there’s no way to know for sure. Norman has a small airport and we are near a Tinker Airforce Base. Planes fly low over Norman all the time. But planes don’t have lights like these… long streams of golden lights. My best skeptic’s guess is that the same guy who used to fly banners with his plane over Owen Field during football games had rigged something. Perhaps he had attached a few strings of Christmas lights onto his tail instead of a banner–just for the fun of it! I would love to learn that someone did that, but I’ve lived in Norman for 35 years since and have never heard of anything like that.
So what do I believe happened? I believe in possibilities.
When my kids were young, we used to visit Sooner Mall to get a snapshot with Santa. This Santa was extra special. Many Normanites will remember him. We’re talking the early 2000s. Moon spectacles. A natural white beard. Balding. Santa pants. Christmasy shirt, and Christmasy suspenders. A twinkle in his eyes. A kind smile. He was something more natural–quieter. No bluster and ho! ho! ho! He didn’t wear a full Santa suit. Why should he? He was not flying through the freezing winter air; he was sitting in a mall with kids on his lap.
My daughter seemed to like visiting a little with Santa, but my son hated it so we never stayed long. We also never signed up for the professional pics. They were kind enough to let us take a few shots with our own camera. After I’d taken a few of the children with Santa, I took them by the hands and began to lead them out of Santa’s workshop, but as we were leaving, Santa said, “Have a Merry Christmas, David.” I turned in surprise and he winked.
I don’t recall giving my name to ANYBODY that day. Perhaps I misheard him. Maybe he didn’t say my name. Maybe he said, “Have a Merry Christmas, Dad” or something else generic. There’s no way to know now and I don’t really want to know. My story is that he said my name and I’ll never know how he knew it.
So what do I believe happened? I believe in possibilities.
A few years ago, while I was the music director at Goodrich United Methodist Church, we had a guest preacher on a Sunday close to Christmas. He was a retired Methodist pastor who looked astonishingly like Santa Claus and sounded like Burle Ives, the famous folk singer who voiced the snowman in the Rankin and Bass Rudolph special. You know. “Have a holly jolly Christmas.”
I’m sure many in the congregation were whispering, and I’m sure he was aware. When it came time to deliver his sermon, he took a few minutes to introduce himself. He revealed, much to all of our delights, that he was a Santa. He visited hospitals, worked malls, and made various other appearances as Santa Claus. He considered it a part of his ministry.
We were in close proximity during both services because it was my job to lead the choir and then lead the hymns from the pulpit. He had a lovely voice…much like Burl Ives! When the second service was over, I went to thank him for leading us.
I shook his hand and said, “It was so wonderful to have you with us today.”
He thanked me and I began to walk away, but I had an impulse. I was almost too embarrassed to entertain it, but I figured what the heck, let’s have a little fun.
I returned to him and said, “Can I make a request?”
“Certainly,” he said.
“You see, there’s this magic wand I’ve been wanting, from Harry Potter?”
He didn’t say anything. Instead, he turned his back to me and began gathering his belongings. I felt embarrassed and was thinking of backing out, but then, suddenly, he spun around with a raised finger and a bright twinkle in his eyes, and said, “A reeaaaaaal magic wand, David?”
I laughed and said, “Can you do that?!!!”
He said, “I’ll see what I can do.”
I did get a wand for Christmas, and although it wasn’t magic that I could tell, it was very special to me–one of many which I have collected since. I try to keep a little bit of childhood in my life.
So what do I believe? Well, I believe in something special that happens in a twinkling of an eye.
There is something. There is always something to believe in our wide world. It’s a choice we must make. Yeah, I could close the Santa door. My kids are grown. There were a few dark years when I thought it was all over, but I was wrong. It’s not over until I want it to be over. And why would I want that?