Everyone knows the story of Santa Claus. How could we not? Every year that jolly old elf pops up on store shelves shorty before Halloween, and watches over us with a tinkling eye until he comes barreling down our chimneys to eat eat cookies and leave presents behind. As kids our parents threatened us with gifts of coal from the big man, and as adults, we threaten our kids with the same. Santa Claus is quite possibly the most loved and adored man to have ever “allegedly” walked the face of this earth. With magical reindeer and an army of overly productive elves, it’s hard for any child to not get excited about the thought of Santa coming to visit.
I remember, as a child, sneaking down the stairs Christmas morning hoping to maybe catch a glimpse of that man in red. To my dismay I never saw him, but I never stopped believing either. Over the years my friends would stop getting presents from Santa. They said it was because he wasn’t real. I said it was because they didn’t believe.
My father was possibly the most joyful person you could ever meet. He had a smile that could light up a room, and a laugh that made you feel good all over. There was no better feeling than to be wrapped up in his arms when I would go home to visit, and at 36 years old, I would still sit on his lap and talk to him about my hopes and dreams. I’m almost pretty sure he lived off of a steady diet of cookies and sweets, much to my mother’s dismay, and it was because of this he had quite a bulbous belly that made him recognizable to almost anyone.
To say my father loved Christmas was an understatement. I used to catch him silently staring at the tree from time to time with a glimmer in his eye. One corner of his mouth would turn up, and a gentle chuckle would escape his lips for no reason other than the fact he was looking at the tree. After my brother and I moved out of the house my parents downsized their tree. It went from being a marvelous wonderment we would haul out of the woods, to nothing more than a table top tree from the back yard. However, I would still catch my father chuckling at that table top tree because, to him, it was still marvelous.
Last month my father passed away after being diagnosed with cancer. I was so angry when it happened because I wasn’t done spending time with him, and neither were my kids. Like so many “children” I wanted to think that my father would be around forever, but as we all know, all things must eventually come to end. The grieving process has been a roller-coaster. I have my good days, and I have my bad days, but the other day turned it all around.
As we were sitting at the table one night for dinner, the kids and I started talking about my father, aka Papa. I was telling them how much Papa loved Christmas, how it was his absolute favorite holiday. We laughed about how he had a big nose and rosy cheeks, and how his belly shook when he laughed. My son then mentioned how we needed to buy more “cheap Christmas cookies” because we were out, and they were Papa’s favorites. We then all looked at the tree in the corner of the living room. It was all lit up and cast little shadows of homemade ornaments on the walls. Then it hit me.
I looked at the kids and said, “Wait a minute, we all know that Santa doesn’t live forever. Right? I mean, someone has to replace him every once in while. Right?” They agreed. “And who is the jolliest person you know?”
“And who loved Christmas more than anyone else, EVER?”
Suddenly my daughter pops up in her chair, “And who eats Christmas cookies ALL the time???”
“PAPA!!! Papa is the new Santa!!!”
It all makes sense to me now. Why I loved my father’s laugh. Why I sat on his lap every time I saw him.
Why I never stopped believing. Who could ever stop believing when they grew up with the future Santa after all? So, this Christmas, my family can take a little joy knowing that my father isn’t really gone. He will live forever in our hearts and minds as we take comfort in knowing that he will be coming down our chimneys for many Christmas Eves to come.
I miss my father every day, so can you do me a favor? The next time you’re out at the mall or store, and you see Santa, go sit on his lap and tell him his family misses him, but we’re so glad he’s spreading the joy and magic of Christmas.