Who is Santa Claus? You know him, don’t you? He’s that guy you think you remember but can’t quite recall. We see him everywhere but aren’t certain if he’s the actual “one”. I know exactly who he is. Santa’s presence, visage, and image are quite clear in my mind. I have no doubts about the identity or reality of Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas.
I’m trying to remember when I first saw Santa. While the moment remains hazy, perhaps around age four or five, the meeting does not. I think he was about two and a half or three feet tall. His complexion wasn’t rosy, as is often described. I will say it was warm. He held a healthy glow. I wanted to hover around Santa in the same way I’m drawn to a fresh bowl of soup.
Santa’s boots stand out in my mind. It’s not their blackness, the coal like sturdiness their roundness gave to his figure; it is that they were shiny. These plastic leather boots glowed like the guards standing watch outside Buckingham Palace. Did Santa polish his own boots? Or did that task fall to the elves or Mrs. Claus? It seems like something he would want to do himself. Even then, though I may not have known how to express it, I think I saw Santa as a guy who liked to maintain a degree of independence. He had big pockets on his large red jacket. He could have carried boot polish, toys, or cold weather survival equipment. His coat was more of a festive safari jacket than a “Santa” suit. Santa was a benevolent action figure bringing love and cheer instead of death and violence.
Santa’s belt was massive; big, black, and gold. I wasn’t sure if he might have been a professional wrestler in his past. The belt wasn’t there to hold up his pants. It was present as a symbol of his Santa authority. Without a belt, Santa is a man in a matching red coat and pants. The belt completes the ensemble. Would Superman be Superman without a cape? Of course not. Santa needs a belt. Only the man in a red suit needs a belt this black, unbelievably wide, and with an enormous gold buckle. Despite this monstrosity of a fashion statement, Santa didn’t look gaudy or like a redneck wrestler with a white beard. He looked like Santa because he was Santa Claus. Everything fit and nothing seemed out of place.
What do you do when you’re four years old and have a three foot tall Santa? Most of the Santa figures I’d seen (those similar to the one in our house) were standing beside trees or perched on window ledges. This wasn’t going to work for me. I wanted to play with Santa. Why couldn’t I pick Santa up and bring him along for car rides or trips to church? Santa would be the perfect companion to play with through Christmas and beyond. If my room were the North Pole, or so my imagination ran, we could start our own toy distribution center. The possibilities were limitless. Or, if things we slow, we could sit and talk. I was sure Santa had seen plenty in the few years he’d roamed the globe, maybe he could tell me something about the clouds over Canada or how they grew fish in Gibraltar. These were some of the questions in my young mind.
I still have a desire to make Santa as tangible as possible. This is because I love Santa. I consider him to be a friend. I saw him yesterday. Despite his age and ever growing responsibilities, he continues to do worthwhile work for communities around the world. It’s also a blast to spend time with him. Most people will zero in on the “jolly old laugh”. If that’s all you hear, I think you’re missing the Santa point. It’s his presence that matters most. It’s when he’s standing there, nearby, ready to be of comfort or service that’s often most fun. Santa is up for anything. I know this from my own experience. You don’t find people like that these days. Santa’s wild sense of adventure will shape and inform imaginations if you allow yourself to spend quality time in his presence. To do this, go beyond the laughter and the cardboard cutouts the world has created. The Santa’s clothing (and the man who wears it) isn’t a prop or a manufactured image, it is who he is so we can be who we are.