“They err, who thinks Santa Claus comes down through the chimney; he really enters through the heart.”— Paul M. Ell
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Santa Claus is real.
No, honest, I saw him. He had a jolly chuckle and a big smile. But no red suit. He was wearing blue overalls and carrying a jacket slung over his shoulder.
The day I saw Santa some years ago came to mind last Saturday afternoon while photographing children visiting Santa and the Grinch. The two Christmas icons were hosted by businesses on the west side of Center’s downtown square. And if that alone was not convincing enough that Christmas was back in town, “The Polar Express” was showing on the big screen just down the street at the Rio Theatre.
I was just there for the pictures. But I thought it worthwhile to drop a hint to Santa, who was at Town and Country Real Estate, that I had been good this year. In case he was wondering. But imagine my astonishment when he replied with a twinkle in his eye, “Well, there are a couple of things we need to talk about.”
My feelings hurt, I moved down the street where the Grinch was waving at passing motorists in front of Primp Salon and Spa. Just to make conversation with the visitor from Whoville, I shared my disappointment in Santa’s doubts about my behavior. Then, for the second time in ten minutes, I was again astonished when the Grinch hugged me and said, “I just love bad behavior.”
“Well,” I told the Grinch, “Looks like I’ll be sending my Christmas wish letter to you instead of Santa this year.”
The Grinch made me smile. So did the kids. Some were laughing. Some were crying. One was playing with Santa’s beard. Another was sleeping through it all.
It reminded me of that earlier time I saw Santa Claus. Not the department store Santa, but the real spirit of Christmas Santa. On the opposite side of the same Center downtown square.
That day, Saturday, Dec. 6, 1980, before the Grinch and before ‘The Polar Express,’ I realized that if we don’t look for the spirit of Christmas Santa, we might walk right past him never realizing we just brushed shoulders with the generous jolly man himself.
The Santa I saw that day long ago was looking for children. But not to sit on his knee and ask for a baby doll or a B-B gun.
This Santa in overalls began with a question. One aimed at the red-suited modern-day Santa counterpart taking a break between herds of joyful youngsters accompanied by shopping-weary parents.
‘What are ya’ll sellin’ Santy,” was the jolly guy’s question? “Who are ya’ collecting money for?”
“Why old Santa Claus is just here to see what the youngsters want for Christmas this year,” St. Nick replied as he shook hands with the old gentleman asking the questions.
“Now listen Santy,” the inquisitive fellow said with one eye squinted, and a stare fixed on Santa with the other. “I see your sign,” he said, nodding toward Santa’s north Pole headquarters that bore a strong resemblance to a backyard portable building. “Sort of makes Ol’ Santy out to be a commercial venture with pictures and all. So how much are you charging for your Christmas cheer?”
“Anyone can come see Santa Claus,” Claus responded, glancing my direction. “The photographer here is taking pictures for anyone wanting a photo—free of charge.”
Apparently having heard enough, Santa’s interrogator leaned over and spoke in low tones. “Now listen Santy, I need you to do me a favor.” With that, he reached deep into one of his overall pockets and produced a handful of shiny silver half-dollar coins. Placing them in Santa’s hand, he said, “Would you give each of the boys and girls you talk to one of these?”
Glancing at the coins with surprise, Santa replied, “I sure will.”
With a nod of his head and tossing his jacket back over his shoulder, the Santa in overalls slapped the Santa in the red suit on the back and walked away.
When red suit Santa looked up again, he waved and roared, “Ho, ho, ho … Merry Christmas.”
Break time was over, and kids were lining up with glee in their eyes.
I’m telling you. Santa is real. If you’re looking for him.
(Photo at top by the author — Children waiting to see Santa, Christmas of 1980 in Center, Texas. The second child from the right, the one with the apprehensive look on her face and holding her mother’s hand, is my daughter, Robin Elizabeth (Aldridge) Osteen.
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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune, the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.
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