Santa visited us here in Greenfield the other night. There were very few kids in attendance, perhaps because so many had seen him at the Victorian street walk in nearby Saratoga just the night before. Santa gave each child, as he does each year when in our tiny town, an unrushed, generous turn, engaging each child in thoughtful conversation in a way I doubt many Santas do. I drove by the small community center to check the line before I zipped off to pick up Elihu, who was at the moment, making gingerbread houses at a friend’s place.
When we returned, Elihu was pleased to find his classmate Jack, the other book-loving kid in his class for whom Star Wars was also of no interest. The two boys giggled and ran around on the lawn outside til I called him in for his turn. As soon as he approached the chair Santa called out to him. “Elihu! It’s so good to see you!” Elihu has come to expect that Santa will not only remember him, he will also recount in lovely detail his observations of the birds he sees while flying in his sleigh. And so the conversation begins. The room is full of chatter, and it’s hard to pick out exactly what is being said. Hoping not to ruin the mood, I catch a little on video. I keep wondering if this is the last year. Jack’s mother and I share our concern and wonder if living in Greenfield might not help extend the magic. It’s hard to know; we are not so isolated from the world as we might hope. I myself have searched Elihu’s face, his physical language, his tone of voice for signs of doubt. I think this year Elihu is still truly on board. As usual, Santa shows no sign of needing to wrap thing up. They continue to talk, and I back away, letting the moment be.
Soon it is time to light the town tree. As he does each year, Santa leads all the children out the door and around the corner to the large tree in front of our tiny town hall. He sings as he walks, ho hos and such, chatting with the kids who run at his heels. When he gets to the tree, Santa tells us that with enough holiday spirit he can light the tree, but first we must show him how much we have. He bends to a child in front and asks if they have the holiday spirit. He then touches their nose and his index finger lights up. He touches the noses of several children before he turns to address the small crowd. He asks us all to shout in chorus “Merry Christmas!”, and when we do, the tip of his right index finger glows red. But it flickers out. “Ho ho! Come on now! I need all of your holiday spirit!” He leads us again, and this time we’ve done it. Santa sweeps his arm upward and points to the giant tree with his glowing finger and it bursts into life. The large, colored bulbs turn on and the crowd claps, every face smiling. But what’s this? Do we hear sirens? Could it be already? Yes, it’s time for Santa to get back to work. He must leave Greenfield now, and the fire truck is coming to whisk him away. The hook and ladder truck pulls up alongside the gathering, lights whirling and sirens blaring, and Santa picks up his pack. He turns to wave at us once more as a fireman, clad in his working gear, gives Santa some help getting up the stairs and into the front seat. His finger still glowing, Santa waves goodbye to us as the truck pulls off into the night.
When Elihu was six, and we’d just come home from lighting the tree with Santa, a tiny blossom had opened on our paper whites. We’d waited for weeks for that first flower. He was beside himself. “Look, mommy!” he said, stunned. “Look how much Christmas spirit we had! We even had enough to make the flower bloom!!” He was thrilled. He was pure belief, pure joy. That was year before last now. He may still believe in Santa, but he and Jack had just discovered that there was a giant electrical box under the tree, and they just knew someone inside the building had turned the tree on, not our Christmas spirit. That jig was up. Gone too, no doubt, was the idea that spirit had once opened a blossom. “Come on, tell me, what did you guys talk about??” I asked after we got home. “Well,” he started quietly, “he told me he sees the geese when he flies. He’s actually flying right next to them in the air. He says the setting sun looks beautiful shining off their bellies. Can you imagine that? That must be amazing.” I wait a bit, then ask – what else? “Did you tell him anything you wanted?” I ask Elihu. “No” he said. “He asked me, but I just told him that I already have everything that I want. I told him I had everything I needed. I just told him that I was happy.”
Me too. Thanks, Santa.