Santa Fly-In has become a yearly tradition in my house, I guess, if going four times or so makes it traditional. While pictures with Santa aren't a priority for us, as Santa visits go, it's not so bad: it's a free event at a local airport, where Santa arrives in a Cessna, and there's still a long line to get a personal audience with him, but while you're waiting, you can walk inside a hot air balloon, or jump in the bouncy house, or sit inside a police helicopter and a small airplane, marveling at the dials and gauges. And towards dusk, if the weather cooperates, anywhere between five and ten hot air balloons take off from the south field. So even if the Santa visit itself is a disaster, the event isn't a complete wash.
After we'd watched the helicopters take off this year, and my bouncy-house-loving daughter decided that she would not set foot in the bouncy house today (for reasons she did not care to share with us), we joined the line of Santa-seekers. Especially given her mood, I suspected that my daughter wouldn't want to sit on Santa's lap, and I was right; she said hello to him this year, which was a huge step forward from last year's screaming fit, but couldn't be persuaded to pose for the picture. We didn't push too hard. It is, after all, sort of a weird thing to ask, given what we tell our children about safety: "don't talk with strangers, but here, go sit on this man's lap." I'd rather she not learn that, actually.
My son, on the other hand, was perfectly happy to cozy up to Santa and tell him that he wanted a computer (news to me). It's been hard to tell what he's thinking about the whole Santa jig this year. I suspect that he doesn't really believe, but he also doesn't want to not believe.
Recapping the visit as we walked to Michael's later in the weekend to pick up some blank cards, he informed me that the Santas one sees in public aren't "the real Santa."
"They're not?" I asked, curious how he'd play this out.
"No," he said. And paused. Then: "But it's still fun."
"What's fun?" I probed. "What part of it?"
"You know. Going to see Santa. Having him out there. It's like ..." He thought for a moment, clearly chewing on his words, "It's hard to explain. It's like the community is doing some thing nice. Like, here's Santa, and you can tell him whatever you want, and maybe he'll give it to you."
"I think I understand," I said. Whether it's the local business improvement district, or the airport, and whatever: creating an opportunity to visit with Santa is like encouraging us to dream. Even if not everything we want arrives on Christmas morning, the possibility that it could, well ... that's the part that makes us feel good.
I really do get what my son means. Because last year, unemployed for the second Christmas, losing hope, and longing for someone to help, unreasonable as it might have been to do so, I whispered in Santa's ear, and asked him for a job.
Santa didn't bring me a job for Christmas, but there were other people who played Santa for me in the months to come. Some of them know who they are, and most likely, some of them don't. Maybe I helped myself, too, but asking out loud, well ... that was probably the first time I acknowledged I couldn't do it alone.
As I stood waiting for our audience with Santa at the airport this weekend, edging forward in the line, I watched Santa's face, and thought about what it must be like to be Santa, however temporarily. Sure, there are probably plenty of Santas that take the job grudgingly, and hate the more annoying parents, and the brattier children, but donning that red suit is a powerful thing. Where actors enjoy the audience's belief for an hour or two, you-as-Santa live on for years. Not like Tim Allen does in The Santa Clause, but in a way that is more profound and meaningful. People set aside their disbelief, and in their brief visit with you-as-Santa, grant you magical powers, immortalize you in their memories and in family photo albums. You become selfless, taking on the identity of something much greater than you could ever hope to be.
As much as I hate Black Friday and the shopping season and the mall during December, I love the kind of believing, and the kind of generosity, that December seems to make possible. And whether you believe in Santa or not, that kind of hope, and that kind of love, is worth cultivating for at least one month out of the year. Here's wishing you a December full of light, and possibility.