A few weeks ago, Son told me that he’d started a little support campaign for Santa Claus at school. Some of the kids had teased him about believing in Santa – “come on, you’re a fifth-grader” – so he had walked around the schoolyard with signs that said something like, “Santa’s real”, and “Free Santa”. And while he may have walked in support of a 300-year-old man, he did it in a 21st century style, with hashtags #freesanta, and #gottabelieve written on the bottom of the signs.
On our way home that day, after he’d told me about his campaign, he asked me if he was being silly.
“I mean, you believe in Santa, right?” he asked me.
Back in the latter half of the 20th century, in the 1970s to be more exact, I didn’t always get to see Santa at Xmas. I mean, he came to our house, but had disappeared just as Dad had got to the door, only to find out Santa had left a couple of plastic bags filled with presents to us.
Now, I always knew he’d be there, because my letters to him had mysteriously disappearead from their place on top of the kitchen radiator, and because on the Xmas Eve afternoons, we’d get in the car and drive around downtown Helsinki to see whether we’d see Santa anywhere. And more often than not, we saw him, not just once but twice or three times.
Sometimes Santa made it in, and sometimes when Santa was so busy that he didn’t even have time to leave the presents at the door himself, so he sent Mrs Claus, and she’d come in and hadn’t us our presents.
One time, we spent Xmas with Grandma and Aunt and her family, and that time Santa Claus walked in himself. He knocked on the door and asked if there were any nice kids inside. I knew there were two of us, Cousin and I, so Santa came in.
When he had handed us our presents and we had sung our songs, he left, as usual. When he was gone, Cousin told everybody that Santa had actually been Dad in disguise. Aunt, Cousin’s mother, laughed and tousled his hair and told everybody what a smart boy he was.
Dad was disappointed. And sad. Sure, maybe he had worn a white beard, and maybe he’d put on the old fur coat inside out, but there was no reason for her sister to taunt him, and rub his nose in it.
I’m not sure if it was right after that, but for a good five years we never got even a whiff of Santa. We went for a drive, saw a couple Santas, but when we had eaten Xmas dinner, there was always just a knock on the door, never the jolly old man himself.
Until the year I turned 16. We had had dinner, and were just sitting and talking, and I had suggested to Dad that maybe he’d go to the door see if Santa had been there, but he just smiled and said he’d heard that Santa would get in a little later that night. Just as I was getting a little too restless, the doorbell rang. Dad went to the door to open it, and there he was, Santa and his elf, who must have been two meters tall.
“Two meters,” I told Son and Daughter when I told this story to them and they laughed at the idea of an elf being tall.
But it was true. The elf was two meters tall, and Santa was a jolly man with impressive belly, and just as impressive belly laugh. They walked in, Santa handed out some presents, and then he got a little snack, and they went their merry way.
Maybe the elf looked like one driver at Dad’s store, and it’s possible I thought Santa’s laugh reminded me of the other driver, but I didn’t think about it too much. After all, it was Santa!
“Whaddayaknow,” Dad said. “Santa Claus came all the way in this year.”
And the year after that, and the year after that. One year, Santa came alone, without the elf, but he came. Then one year, he just left the presents at the door again.
A couple of years ago, he’d been close, but didn’t have time to come in. I found his mittens outside, though, and I saw some footsteps around the house. But he’s a busy man, and sometimes that’s what happens.
So when Son asked me if I believe in Santa, I said yes. That’s why we’ll go Santa spotting tomorrow, and that’s why Santa will knock on our door tomorrow night. Even if he may – as the rumors say – look and sound like an 11-year-old boy with a fake beard and an Australian accent that’s just as fake.
Doesn’t matter. He’ll be there.