Saturday, December 03, 2005

In search of Santa Claus

One of the cruelest hoaxes perpetrated on us is that we are brought up to believe in a wise, generous patron who will give us our hearts desires if only we are reasonably good throughout the year. We are led to believe that the letters of petition we send and the long lists we dictate to the man with the long snowy beard and the garish crimson and white costume will be awarded to us on Christmas Day. And then, just when we’re getting into the groove, the curtain is drawn back and the deception is revealed. Alas, cruel fate!

I miss Santa Claus.

Christmas was a lot more exciting when we had the freedom to ask this perfect stranger for anything we wanted. Greed was sanctioned. We could ask for anything and everything, and we did.

And then we learned the truth but the truth did not set us free. Instead, we learned to continue the fabrication, on siblings, friends and, eventually, upon our own offspring. Our children prattle on about the many nifty things they expect to see under the tree when they rise from their restless slumber. Meanwhile, visions of credit card receipts dance in our heads. Our Christmases are reduced to what we can afford rather than what we actually want.

Our boys are grown up now and have families of their own, leaving just my wife and I. It’s been an exciting time since they moved out – no empty-nest syndrome for me. No more worries about Santa bringing presents we can barely afford, no more illusions of the supernatural. That chapter of my life is forever closed.

And yet, the other day I was listening to a little girl tell Santa Claus what she wanted. She wanted a lot. Santa smiled and patted her on the head and gave out a hearty bellow, and she lightly skipped off his lap, her face glowing with contentment. I was jealous.

Why should kids have all the fun? Why isn’t there a Santa Claus for adults? I once made a promise to never grow up. Life gets in the way and tends to beat you up, but faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. I’m trying to hang on to that. I really am.

I read in the paper that Santa Claus will be at Saturday’s Lighted Horsedrawn Parade. This year I’m willing to give him another try. I’m drawing up my Christmas list and intend on handing it to him right after I plunk down on his knee.

I want that new 65m/m Swarovski spotting scope with HD glass and a 20X-60X zoom, and a Bogen carbon-fiber tripod to set it on. I want an unlimited shopping spree at I want a million dollars in the bank. I want to lose thirty pounds and keep it off without exercise or diet. I want beer to have fewer calories and still taste good.

Dang it, I want my Santa Claus back.

When I was young, before my father taught me how to read maps, I had only the vaguest idea of directions. Still, I knew that north at the top of the globe that spun on my desk I knew that north always had an arrow pointing toward it on two-dimensional maps. North was up, that’s all I needed to know. And north was where Santa Claus lived, at the North Pole.

However, my unformed brain did not register the full picture. From my home in Albuquerque, north was that void between the eastern outthrust of the Sandia Mountains and the flat horizon to the west, where, on clear days, distant Mount Taylor, “Turquoise Mountain” to the Navajos, could be seen. If I was unable to grasp those facts, I still could discern that north was, at the very least, a higher elevation than whatever level plain I was standing upon.

And so, once Christmas drew nigh, a friend and I went looking for Santa Claus. If north was up and we were down, our reasoning indicated that all we had to do was find someplace taller than our present position, which happened to be near the elementary school we attended near the north edge of town. And not far from there stood an old farmstead, a relict rapidly being consumed by the growth of the city, and behind it, jutting up from the sandy soil like a finger pointing straight to God, was a windmill.

Up we climbed like two monkeys, hauling ourselves ever nearer the galvanized blades forever stilled by time. We did not find Santa Claus, or reindeer, or anything much more than a good view all around, but a policeman found us and ordered us down. He drove us home to our parents where, I recall, we were sternly advised to stay clear of the farm.

In many ways, though, I had it right. Maps are useful tools, and in our modern day of satellites and computer imaging they are accurate down to the inch. But they may also fail to show what is really there—the imagination, the wonder, the dream. I was searching for the invisible, for a fantasy, and by doing so I was more engaged in life and the world surrounding me than I ever would have been had I scientifically diagnosed the situation and declared that Santa does not exist and that the North Pole was thousands of miles beyond my reach.

This Christmas Eve I’m going to do something different. Late at night, when most of the town lies slumbering, I’m going to step outside and peer into the starry skies. I’m going to look for movement, not of jets streaking silently past, but for something considerably more ancient. And I’ll listen with everything I possess for the sound of bells, of harnesses creaking, of wind rustling over brightly wrapped packages, and for a fat man in a red suit joyously calling to his steeds, “On Dancer, on Blitzen!”

I’m sure they’ll be up there, for up is north and north is where Santa Claus rides in the sky.

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