Yes Sophia, there is a Santa Claus, and you know him.
Due to an incredibly fortunate set of situations, my daughter is going to believe in Santa Claus for her entire life. For one, there really was a Saint Nick, and I’ve been to his hometown (Patara, Turkey…look it up). Second, as is common knowledge, Santa moved to points further north some time ago and now resides somewhere in Alaska. For many years, so did we. But most importantly, my daughter was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who had a serious commitment to their town and the people in it. One of those wonderful people was Santa.
Santa lived out of town a ways with his wife, and for most of the year tended to the fish hatchery. I don’t want to say exactly where, because, well, he might get inundated with Santa stalkers, and Mrs. Claus would definitely not appreciate that. But this Santa was the full package. Lots of white hair, a full, bushy beard, and his wife fed him well. He also had a wonderful, jolly attitude. He was perfectly happy to put on that red suit every December and head into town for hours of conversation with young children with long wish lists and stories about how they’d been good all year. Santa knew better. He’s no dummy. But Santa was a great listener, always optimistic, and always game.
For example, I give you Christmas of 2001. Sophia had just turned 4. We were getting ready to leave in a few days to head south to spend the holidays with my family in Oregon. The Saturday before we left, Sophia and I went to a holiday bazaar in the community gymnasium, where she picked out a lovely handmade candle with peppermint candies embedded in the side as a gift for her Aunt Dana, who was going to be with us over the holidays. This was the first gift Sophia had ever picked out for anyone, so it was a big deal for her. It was a good choice, too. To me, Peppermint is the scent of Christmas.
The next day, we went to the grocery store. We were in the produce section when Sophia, still small enough to sit in the seat and poke her legs through those teeny holes, grabbed my arm. “Mama! Look! It’s…..SANTA!” Sure enough, there he was, out of uniform, picking out carrots with the missus. “We need to tell him we won’t be here this year for Christmas,” she said, sounding ever so concerned. She didn’t want him showing up at the house, squeezing down the teeny weeny chimney of our wood stove, only to find out that we weren’t home.
What’s a mom to do? I pushed my cart over toward the couple, and said, “Why hello there, Santa.” I kind of laugh now that I even thought that for a second I needed to remind him of his position in the community. Santa was experienced. He’d had this gig for years. He greeted Sophia by name, and told her he was just picking up some carrots for his reindeer.
Sophia told Santa not to come to our house this year because we wouldn’t be there.
“Oh, so you’re visiting your grandparents in Oregon then?”
Ok, I have to admit, even I was a little surprised that Santa knew my family was in Oregon. But we did live on an island. With just a few thousand people. It’s hard to live somewhere like that without getting to know every single inhabitant as well as some of the intimate details of their lives whether you want to know it or not. Plus, Santa pays attention. And he knows everything.
I was trying to move on, to push that cart over toward the dairy section because I didn’t want to overstay my welcome with Santa, but before I could get away, Sophia said, “Santa? Could you do something for me? Could you take the peppermint candle to my Aunt Dana?”
Santa barely faltered.
“Well I’ll see what I can do.”
“And all I want this year is a nose like Rudolph.”
Santa laughed and said he’d work on that too, and I got the hell out of there.
Imagine my surprise the next day when there was a knock at the front door. It was Santa, in blue jeans & red suspenders. He asked for Sophia, who was playing with a friend in her bedroom, and their jaws dropped when I called them to the front door because Santa was here to see her, to pick up that peppermint candle.
What a thrilling moment it was for Sophia when all her Christmas wishes came true. She woke up on December 25th in Oregon to find that very peppermint candle on the mantle at my mom & dad’s, with a note to Aunt Dana explaining that while it was a little unorthodox for Santa to deliver other people’s gifts, he considered Sophia a personal hometown friend, and was happy to oblige. He also left Sophia a red, blinking Rudolph nose on an elastic string so she could wear it on her face.
A few years later, when Sophia was in grade school, some kids started spreading that nasty rumor that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus; that he’s just some dude in a fat suit with a fake beard letting kids sit on his lap for a part-time job. I told her she needed to defend his honor. I reminded her that not only had she lived near him in Alaska, she’d shopped beside him at the grocery store, and he was a personal friend who’d done her a favor outside of his regular job description. Santa was real, and so was the beard.
We also talked about how even if the original Santa wasn’t alive today, that everything Santa stands for – the concept of Santa – is alive and well throughout the world. Santa is the spirit of giving and spreading joy, the spirit of connecting community, and even the idea that if you’re good, you are inviting good things to happen in your life. Santa is generosity. Santa is a smile. Santa is a plate of cookies or a hug or any random act of kindness. Santa is actually all year long, if we want. And don’t we?
Speaking of cookies, and finally getting around to music…sometimes I get annoyed by the endless loop of holiday music in the grocery store, but I do love listening to Christmas tunes when I’m baking cookies, whipping up a holiday dinner, or cleaning the house preparing for the holidays. Even if I’m listening to a version of Sleigh Ride or Up On The Rooftop that I’ve never heard before, I can sing along right from the start because I know all the words. There’s something comforting about that. However, putting together the perfect mix of holiday music is not so easy. First of all, there’s so many to choose from! There’s the familiar, the unfamiliar, the good, the bad and the downright ugly (If you’ve heard Richard Cheese’s version of ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ then you know what I’m talking about).
So in the hopes of making your holidays brighter (and in the spirit of Santa), today I’m sharing with you my favorite holiday mix. Make that mixes. I’m including three separate holiday mixes, one for every mood. Nothing too obnoxious (except for the Jingle Dogs. I couldn’t help myself), nothing overly silly (except for the Jingle Dogs. Seriously, who doesn’t love just a little bit of Jingle Dogs), and nothing from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Oh wait. I take that back. There is an appearance from the charming Mormon Tabernacle Handbell Choir. And it ain’t bad!
Just three totally different playlists for whatever holiday mood you find yourself in today. Or if you really go crazy for this stuff, play all three at the same time. It can be done!
Please enjoy my little peppermint-scented Christmas gift to the world, and consider the idea of keeping the concept of Santa alive in your heart all year long. It certainly couldn’t hurt!
Valerie Ing-Miller has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for nine years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She’s the mother of a teenage daughter and a 7-year-old West Highland Terrier, and can’t imagine life without them or music. Valerie wakes up with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.
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