The Santa Within Me
Theres nothing so beautiful as a childs dream of Santa Claus. I know; I often had that dream. But I am Jewish and my parents didnt celebrate Christmas. It was everyone elses holiday-a big party I wasnt invited to-and I felt left out. It wasnt toys I yearned for; it was Santa Claus and a Christmas tree. So when I got married and had children I decided to make up for what Id missed.
I started with a two-metre high tree, all decorated with lights and tinsel. The year was 1956, and we were living in New York City. My daughter Claire was only two, but her eyes sparkled as she smiled at the tree. It gave off warmth that filled every corner of our home. And it warmed my heart to see the glitter, cause now the party was at my house and everyone was invited.
But something was missing, something big and round and jolly, with jingle bells and a ho! ho! ho! So I bought some bright-red cloth and my wife made me a costume. Inflatable pillows filled out my skinny frame. A Santa mask, complete with whiskers and flowing white hair, made me look genuine enough to live up to a childs dream of old St Nick.
When I tired on the costume and looked in the mirror, there he was, big as life, the Santa of my childhood. I felt myself becoming Santa. I learned back and pushed out my pillow stomach. My voice got deeper and richer. Merry Christmas, everyone.
Claire was almost four and Danny not yet one when Santa first came to our house. They stood in awe and I saw in their eyes the fantasy and magic of what I had become. Santa was special. He was the personification of kindness and gentleness. He was a little scary, too.
For two years I played Santa for my children, to their fright and delight and to my total enjoyment. And when the third year rolled around, the Santa in me had grown into a personality of his own and he needed more room. So, I sought to accommodate him by letting him do his thing for other children.
One day in late November, I saw this pretty little girl trying to reach a post-box slot, and saying, Mummy, are you sure Santa will get my letter? My mind began to whirl. All those children who write to Santa Claus, whatever becomes of their letters? A phone call to the postal service answered my question. The dead-letter office stored the thousands of letters in huge sacks.
The Santa in me went ho! ho! ho! and we headed to the post office. As I began rummaging through the letters, I become a little flustered at the demands and greed of so many spoilt children. Most of the letters were selfishly demanding. But, the Santa in me heard a voice from inside the post bags, and I continued searching until I came upon one letter that jarred me: Dear Santa, I am an 11-year-old girl and I have two little brothers and a baby sister. My father died last year and my mother is ill. I know there are many who are poorer than we are and I want nothing for myself, but could you send us a blanket cause Mummys cold at night. It was signed Suzy.
A chill went up my spine and the Santa in me cried, I hear you, Suzy. I dug deeper into those sacks and came up with another eight such letters, all calling out from the depths of poverty. I took them with me and went straight to the telegraph office and sent each child a telegram: Got your letter. Will be at your house. Wait for me. Santa.
I knew I could not possibly fill all the needs of these children, but if I could bring them hope, if I could make them fell that their cries did not go unheard.
I budgeted some money and went out and bought presents. On Christmas Day, my wife drove me around. My first call took me to the outskirts of the city. The letter from Peter Barski had read: Dear Santa, I am ten years old I am an only child. Weve just moved to this house and I have no friends yet. Im not sad because Im poor but because Im lonely. I know you have many people to see and you probably have no time for me. So I dont ask you to come to my house or bring anything. But could you send me a letter so I know you exist?
Dear Peter, my telegram began. Not only do I exist, but Ill be there on Christmas Day, Wait for me.
Peters house was wedged between two tall buildings. Its roof was of corrugated metal and it was more of a shack than a house. With a bag of toys slung over my shoulder, I walked up the steps and knocked. A heavy-set man opened the door. Boze moj, he said in astonishment-thats Polish for My God-and his hand went to his face. Please, he stuttered. The boy at mass. I go get him. Please wait, He threw on a coat and, assured that I would wait, ran down the street.
I stood there in front of the house, felling good. Then, across the street, I noticed another shack; through the window I could see little black faces peering at ae and tiny hands waving. The door opened shyly and some voices called out, Hiya, Santa.
I ho! ho! hoed my way over there, and a woman asked if Id come in, and I did. Inside were five children from one to seven years old. I spoke to them of Santa and the spirit of love, which is the spirit of Christmas. Then, seeing the torn Christmas wrappings, I asked if they liked what Santa had brought them. Each thanked me-for the woollen socks, the sweater and the warm underwear.
Didnt I bring you any toys? They shook their heads sadly. Ho ! ho! ho! I slipped up, I said, Well have to amend that. Knowing that we had extra toys in the car, I gave each child a toy. There was joy and laughter, but when Santa got ready to leave, I noticed one girl crying. I bent down and asked her, Whats the matter? Oh! Santa, she sobbed.
Im so happy. And the tears rolled from my eyes under the rubber mask. As I stepped out on the street, Panie, panie, prosze Sir, sir, please, I heard Mr. Barski say across the way. Peter just stood there and looked as Santa walked into the house. You came, he said. I wrote and .. You came.
When he recovered, I spoke with him about loneliness and friendship, and gave him a chemistry set and a basketball. He thanked me profusely. And his mother asked something of her husband in Polish. My parents were Polish, so I speak a little and understand a lot. From the North Pole, I said in Polish. She looked at me with astonishment. You speak Polish?Of course, I said. Santa speaks all languages. And I left them in joy and wonder.
The following year, when the momentum of Christmas began to build, I felt a stirring and I knew that the Santa within me was back. So I returned to the post office and to those heart-breaking letters. I made my rounds for 12 years in all, listening for the cries of children muffled in unopened envelopes, answering the call of as many as I could- frustrated at not being able to answer them all.
As time went on, word got out about Santa Claus and me, and manufacturers sent me cartons of toys. Having started with 20 children, I had wound up with 120, door to door, from one end of New York City to the other, from Christmas Eve through Christmas Day.
On my last call a few years ago, I knew there were four children in the family and I came prepared. The house was small and sparsely furnished. The youngsters had been waiting all day, staring at the telegram and repeating to their skeptical mother, Hell come, Mummy, hell come.
As I rang the bell, the door swings open and they all reach for my hands and hold on. Hiya, Santa. We just knew youd come.
I take each of them on my lap and tell stories of joy, hope and waiting, and give them each a toy. All the while theres this fifth child standing in the corner, a cute girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. I turn to her and say, Youre not part of this family, are you?
She shakes her head sadly and whispers, No. Whats your name? I ask.
How old are you?
Come, sit on my lap. She hesitates, but then comes over.
Did you get any toys for Christmas? I ask.
No, she says. I take out a big beautiful doll. Do you want this doll?
No, she says. And she leans over and whispers in my ear, Im Jewish.
I nudge her and whisper, Im Jewish, too.
Lisa grins from ear to ear. She takes the doll I hand her, hugs it and runs out.
I dont know which of us is happier-she or the Santa in me.
Merry Christmas, my friends.
Author : Jay Frankston