There was something different about the Santa Claus at Rodale Institute in Maxatawny, PA this weekend. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I enjoyed watching Organic Santa with the kids, until about the fifth time I saw this exact scene repeat itself.
“Helloooo! I’m so glad you made it!! I’ve been waiting for you,” called Organic Santa as the next child approached.
The child would do one of two things. Smile broadly and rush to climb up onto the antique sleigh, or, more commonly, stare in a mesmerized, suspended state of animation that could produce no spoken words as their accompanying adult half-dragged them up the step.
“It’s so good to see you. Thanks for waiting to see me.”
More silence. Eyes locked in disbelief and fear.
“Let’s have our picture taken. My elf Amanda has a camera there. Say cookies. And carrots. Don’t forget the carrots for the reindeer! Oh I like carrots too. Do you like carrots? Ho Ho HO. Wonderful!”
“So what’s Christmas like at your house?” he said turning from the camera’s lens to look the child in the eye and lowering his voice. Do you put up a tree?”
At this point, the child would generally snap of the SantaStupor, and share her little Christmas scene with Santa about what her tree was like, what kind of cookies they baked and sometimes added a few questions about the reindeer. (They stay at the airport when he’s in town, FYI). No one mentioned going out for a run with their parents, but no matter.
“Do you have a message for Santa?”
This is where the beautiful, magical scene of innocence started to break down. This is where the shouting would inevitably begin. “TELL SANTA WHAT YOU WANT FOR CHRISTMAS” I’d hear from the child’s parents. “TELL HIM! TELL HIM OR HE MIGHT NOT BRING YOU ANYTHING.”
Now, I’m a parent and I understand why this takes place. The shyness of the moment can soon give way to sadness about not communicating with Santa once the fear wears off on the ride home. As if that was her one and only chance to speak directly to the great man who holds so much mystical power in her life. No parents wants their kid to carry around that disappointment. Or worse, have to come back and see him again to give him the list. So yeah, spit it out and let’s get going to the grocery store.
But to see the same scene, over and over again, made me a little sad. It was as if the child was already getting exactly what she wanted for Christmas– a treasured moment with Santa. And the hyperspeed commercial volume of the crazy season overpowered that simple, unfiltered joy with a recitation of a mundane list of items that must be acquired as some kind of measure of the season’s ultimate success or failure.
That’s when I realized what set Organic Santa apart from the other Santas I have seen over the years. He followed “The Santa Santa Rule” from David Sedaris’s fantastical, brilliant “Santaland Diaries. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=161Fyi6fid0
In his incredible tale that forever put Sedaris on the literary map, the most realistic and humane Santa at Macy’s is renown not for his trademark beard, suit or anything he says– but for what he doesn’t. He would never ask what the child wanted for Christmas. Never ever. He would just talk with the child and see what was on her mind. In kind of an odd, ironic way, it is exactly what this Catholic boy thinks I’d want to do if I ever met that other person who is at the center of the Christmas story. Not ask for stuff. But to talk. To understand. To just be together. What more could a true believer really want?
For those parents who couldn’t badger their kids into reciting their memorized lists, this Organic Santa left them with the same assurance that I want when a moment overwhelms me.
“Tell you what. If you think of other messages you have for me before Christmas, you have someone help you write it down and give it to this person right here (pointing to the child’s presumed parent). She knows how to get it to me.”
So from Organic Santa to you, that’s my holiday wish to one and all.
Enjoy the moments of the holiday season as they appear to you, not for what you think they may lead to. And if you want something to be known, just write it down and send it out. It really could happen.
The truth is that it’s worked for me. You’re reading this aren’t you? Then a little one of my dreams has come true.
Now it’s your turn. What message is it time for you to share?