Nick of Time
A Drum for Tommy © 1921 Norman Rockwell.
I met Santa Claus last night.
Really, I did; I'll tell you about it. And the timing was perfect, as the lights have not been in my favor this season.
If you've checked out my past holiday posts you know that to me, having grown up celebrating both Christmas and Chanukah, December is one big 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 Northeast Atlantic USA, brightening things up as the weather turns cold and sunlight is at its briefest, well, it helps — not to give short shrift to beliefs and traditions commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple for some or the birth of the Messiah for others, nor to a general focus on peace, love, and charity.
But I couldn't find my box of holiday stuff in my mom's house this year. It's a big house, granted, and there's been lots of redistribution of storage amongst the basement, attic, and living spaces recently; still, the box has to be somewhere. I'd waited as usual until the week before Christmas, though, and by the time it occurred to me to just 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 start early and search 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 didn't get to enjoy the menorah much this year, either, and not just because the differences in the Jewish and Gregorian calendars knocked Chanukah back to early December. Spending much of the past week in pain and as immobile as possible also meant that I didn't get to take in the last-minute bustle at the mall or do my traditional Christmas Week drive to check out the neighborhood decorations. Then came the capper to my recent Internet problems, as the light on my little broadband doodad went from green to orange sometime this morning; according to Doodad Central's representative, while solid green is waiting and blinking green is connected (which I knew) orange is device needs to be exchanged for one that works.
Of course I considered the silver lining of not being distracted by any online activity, especially its most exasperating aspects, as Christmas approached. But I'd already planned to visit my grandparents, finally take that drive around the neighborhood, and then enjoy a quiet Christmas Eve before, hopefully, getting to see some friends tomorrow; I really wasn't going to do much more online than publish a post of Christmas memories and check in on some friends' blogs for last-minute Season's Greetings.
I headed out to my grandparents' place and, not a mile down the road from home, waving to traffic — looking, actually, like he was trying to flag someone down — 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 his hand.
"You know, I haven't seen you in person for quite some time," 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 size of the smile on my face or something in my body language — or, heck, just being Santa Claus — he said, "We could take a picture if you like." For the briefest moment, the spirit of cynicism enveloped me. He was standing in front of some take-out joints — although his only interaction with the few people coming and going was to smile, wave, and wish them good tidings — and I wondered if there was a catch after all, if he wasn't a pretender trying to drum up business of some sort or just ask for charitable donations in return for A Photo with Santa!, not having pressed me earlier simply because I seemed so darned happy to see him. Then he added, "Do you have a camera phone?"
"No," I said, relieved but also feeling a bit antsy having left the car running and being expected somewhere. "I appreciate the offer, though. 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, because you don't lie to Santa — besides, it's not like he didn't already know.
He laughed a reassuring laugh, the way only Santa Claus 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, even though I'd never told him my name, but I won't swear that he didn't.
Only a few 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 or whomever, the sleigh had just finished some stops in the Atlantic Ocean and was making its way to South America, with Santa expected on the Eastern seaboard by midnight local time as usual.
I knew better.
Oh, I don't doubt that the reindeer were crossing the sky right where they were supposed to be, but 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.