Santa may be coming to town

Lately, Son’s gotten into politics. He’s dashing off to all kinds of meetings, and he’s arranging events and moderating debates, so much so that it’s hard for me to keep up. I do know, though, that he’s a smart and caring boy and that his politics are very warm and that he’s out to change the world for the better. He wants to help people, which is nice.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to me that he wants to get out there and make things happen. A few years ago, maybe around five or so, he ran a one-man one-cause campaign at school as he paraded the schoolyard with a sign that said, “BELIEVE IN SANTA – He is real.”

Now there’s a message I can get behind.

I love the game of Santa Claus and I probably like it because Mom and Dad like it. When I was a kid, we’d always get in the car on Xmas Eve, and drive around downtown Helsinki to see if we could see Santa (and then make an estimate on when he’d hit out place).

And of course we did. We saw him several times in several place around town, walking in to and out of apartment buildings.

More often than not, though, he didn’t have time to stop at our place. It was almost a rule that after the Xmas dinner the three of us would have, Dad would get the word from somewhere that it would be at least another hour until Santa was going to come.

“I don’t think he’ll make it here until eight!” he’d say.

He’d also always be the one to tell Mom and me that “this year, we’ll take our time with the dinner, there’s no rush, we’ll have a nice loooooooong dinner.”

After dinner, I’d wait and have a look through the window, and maybe watch TV, or take a nap – anything to make time go faster. And then, noises at the door. Who can it be? And as I rushed to the door, Mom or Dad would be there, yelling something to somebody apparently running in the staircase.

“Oh, it was Santa, he said he was running behind schedule so he didn’t have time to stay this time, but he wishes you a merry Christmas … and he left these bags,” they’d tell me then.

And then we’d open the presents and talk about Santa always being in such a hurry.

“Maybe next year,” we’d say.

We mostly spent Xmas at home, just the three of us but I remember two Christmases that we spent at my Grandma’s a good 5-6-hour drive away. The first time was special because that year, as my parents and I, my aunt and my cousin gathered in Grandma’s big TV room, Santa did show up.

Except, he didn’t. He was in such a hurry that his wife, Mrs Claus had had to step in instead. Mrs Claus was about the same height as my mother, and she wore a fur coat, and spoke in a hoarse voice. Years after, Mom seems to remember her the best, even though she wasn’t even in the room when Mrs Claus paid her visit.

A couple of years later, we spent Christmas at my aunt’s place in the same village where my Grandma lived. I remember four things from that Xmas.

One, we went to the church early in the morning, and we never went to church.

Two, I played soccer with Grandma, and her hips mostly kept her from kicking a ball.

And third, that Santa showed up. He did. Not just noises at the door, no Mrs Claus. Mr. Santa Claus himself. There he was, in flesh, standing in the middle of the living room in my aunt’s old house, handing out presents. He was jolly and he had a deep voice, a big belly and a big white beard and – the fourth thing I remember – young man’s hands. I didn’t notice it, or care about it, but my cousin did, and he couldn’t let it go, being just a child.

So he called out my Dad’s name.

“No, no, it is I – Santa Claus,” Santa said in his deep voice.

“No, you’re my uncle,” said my cousin.

Santa laughed and left the house. My aunt was, understandably, proud of her bright son who couldn’t be fooled, and Dad was, understandably, disappointed with how his performance had gone, and, I think, with his sister for not supporting him more. Either way, Dad’s never been Santa again.

I’ve only put on the Santa gear once, to help a Swedish colleague. His son had been reading up on Santa and knew that he comes from Finland so my friend wanted a Santa who could speak Finnish. I spoke Finnish, and I kept my mittens on so that I could confidently say I was 750 years old without having to advertise Oil of Ulay.

I think I did okay.

A few years ago both Father-in-Law and Brother-in-Law announced they had hung up the boots and the beard. And who can blame them? We all know the show’s much more fun this side of the stage. However, with both our go-to guys out of the rotation, we had to come up with alternative solutions. One year, a friend helped out, the next year, a neighbor, but three years ago, we had nothing on Xmas eve morning.

Thinking back at all my childhood Xmases, and how we always went on our scouting trips, I suggested we simply have Santa leave the presents at the door, in a hurry. Only, to add some more excitement to the evening, I also suggested that we send the kids out to see if they could see Santa rushing off, and that we also leave some clues for the kids to find.

Wife thought it sounded like a great idea, and convinced her siblings and parents to play along. Late afternoon, after the traditional Donald Duck cartoon on TV, I snuck out and left a mitten hanging from our hedge, and made some big footprints in the snow just outside our yard, heading towards the garage. (Maybe Santa had parked Rudolph and the gang on the garage roof?)

I couldn’t wait for the evening to arrive.

To me, it was the perfect Santa show. It had a lot of magic, some suspense, some anticipation, but none of the awkward chit-chat with him, or the singing of carols.

And, carefully, I added the last missing piece.

“I don’t think he’ll make it here until eight!” I told everybody.

By 5.30, the kids were getting antsy, and since we had mostly finished our dinner, we decided to put the scheme in action. Suddenly, there were noises at the door! I grabbed a flashlight and led the kids outside.

“Santa’s here … no, wait. Looks like he had to rush off…” I said as I ran out.

I led the search party and I yelled triumphantly when Daughter found a mitten. I showed the kids the footprints I had found, the ones that led towards the garage. I looked left and right, I scanned the neighborhood for any signs of Santa, and I encouraged the kids – Son, Daughter and their cousins – to do the same.

When I returned home, I heard that some of the kids were crying.

“They’re just upset that Santa didn’t come in,” Wife told me.

The next year – the year of Son’s “Free Santa” campaign at school – Santa came all the way to our living room.

Santa and Son in the same photo...

The other day, Daughter was singing Xmas carols at home, rehearsing for their school show, and we started to talk about Santa Claus.

“Hey, remember a couple of years ago when Santa was really short?” she asked me.

“Yeah, I do. That was the time when Santa spoke in different accents and when he left, he asked us to say hi to Son, ‘that smart and funny fella’,” I said. “Right?”

“Maybe it was, I just remember that he was really short. Only a little taller than me. I mean, usually Santa’s, like, the size of a grownup.”

“That’s true, that’s true. And I do remember that. Oh well, maybe it was one of his helpers.”

And we left it at that. Daughter just looked at me and grinned.

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