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December 21, 2007

Santa’s in the Seein’

Norman M. Covert

Pardon my impertinence, but a long time ago my blue eyes assured me in the darkness of an early Christmas morning that Santa Claus had come and gone. No question. No debate.

Santa Claus is the genuine article, the Real McCoy. Only Santa, I knew, has the wherewithal to grant my wishes. I could see the toys and presents under the spruce, proof positive!

My eyes are still a good judge of truth and veracity in many things – Santa is still real; some other things, especially political sleight of hand, are a bit fuzzy.

Those eyes watched recently at Francis Scott Key Mall as a wheel-chair bound senior lady excitedly responded to having her picture taken with Santa. Her escort – perhaps her son – enjoyed the glee he saw, especially when Santa enjoined her to make sure she was a good girl. She clutched the picture as she gently waved goodbye to him.

Moments later, we met in a nearby watch store. I had to ask if indeed she had been a good girl this year. She nodded, apparently unable to say the words. The son said she loves Christmas, especially seeing children and remembering her childhood.

“Don’t forget,” I told her, “you have to believe in Santa. That’s the only way presents show up at my house.”

Her entire face smiled.

While seated in the burger emporium (I had grilled chicken), a nearby child asked his father what Santa looks like? “He’s a fat old white man,” the man replied. The child seemed confused.

It is disappointing to hear a man speak to his son in such a manner. It elicits no joy, whether or not it is true. My Santa has always been a “fat, old white man.” I have seen “fat, old Santas” of a variety of ethnic origins, but the most memorable are the drawings by 19th Century artist Thomas Nast.

I also can never forget the dad who volunteered to be Santa for our Cub Scouts one Christmas. His calves were so big, I had to use my Scout knife to clip the trouser seams and he made the scarlet tunic bulge alarmingly. I had never seen anyone bigger than the suit.

There also is my high school friend Tim Morgan, who rides his sleigh all over Frederick. He sports an almost-white natural beard, appearing at the Salvation Army Kettle and wherever children are seen, including the Big Brothers Big Sisters bash last Sunday. He also risks bursting seams on the tunic.

There is no question I believed in the Jolly Old Elf and would not abide naysayers in my Virginia neighborhood. My friends agreed with the notion and magic of Santa, except one, who counseled privately that he knew the whole story, but it was better left alone until January.

Santa’s visit was an event that made it difficult to drop off to sleep Christmas Eve. At our house, we had a wreath on the door and Christmas decorations around the house. We rarely bought the tree until a couple days before Christmas.

The tree, once erected in the living room, remained undecorated – it was Santa’s job to do that. The bigger event was anticipation on how long it would take Dad to shave the trunk enough to force it to stand upright in the cast iron tree stand. Then his electrician skills came into service. He had to figure out which light(s) in each string was blown, causing the in-series wiring to shut down the entire string. That was the annual mystery.

The ritual each December included going to see Santa at the department store; writing a letter to the North Pole; and magically receiving a letter from the North Pole. That missive from Santa and his Elves had the return address of FAO Schwartz & Co., New York City. The latter was probably a mailing sparked by my grandmother, who wrote for an industrial and retail magazine out of Detroit.

We set out cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer, including Rudolph, who was a wartime addition to the team.

Christmas morning the tree sparkled in the living room fully adorned and we could tell without question which toys were meant for my brother, my sister or me. Everything else was wrapped.

The Marx train set I received in 1947 has seen better days, but the twin Santa Fe Chieftain diesels still shine and spark their way around the tree. The 1951 Lionel also is my pride, and one of these days my grandchildren may wrestle both away from me. They can play with them, but they’re mine!

Santa Claus brought those exquisite toys to me. I had seen them in the Sears, Roebuck catalogue, but Santa brought them.

Such joyful memories belie the likes of today’s urban cowboys, who try to diminish the magic of Christmas. They simply do not understand childhood delight or the crystalline link between of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem and Clement Moore’s Right Jolly Old Elf and eight tiny reindeer.

We have a crop of curmudgeons who find satisfaction in their arrogance, anger and complaints. Pardon me if I am emotional Christmas Eve while playing with our Brass quartet at church or singing “Silent Night” by candlelight.

I may even leap out of bed earlier than usual Tuesday morning to see what the clatter is out on the lawn, but mostly to see what Santa put in my stocking. Have a Merry Christmas, children.

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