Thursday, December 16, 2010

Meeting Santa Claus

For generations, children who believe in Santa Claus have sought to meet Jolly Old Saint Nick. They lay in their beds, fighting sleep, as they listen intently for the ring of sleigh bells or the scraping of hooves on the roof.

Many devise elaborate plans to make a meeting possible, much to the dismay of weary parents. I was one of those children. Try as I may, however, I never achieved success...until I became an adult.

I met Santa Claus a few days before Christmas 1998, in Millinocket, Maine of all places.

Most days, he goes by a different name, Wayne Kidney, and has been a friend of Grampa Harry and Grammie Kay for more years than I can recall.

A big man with an even bigger heart, Wayne dons each Christmas Eve a beautiful red suit adorned in white fur that was lovingly made by his wife Candy, a very talented seamstress.

He gathers a sack full of presents, climbs into a sleigh that looks remarkably like a small pickup truck and pays visits to children in town, sharing the magic that has long been part of the secular side of the holiday season.

I can't recall just how or when Wayne offically became one of Santa's Maine-based helpers, but I'm guessing his physical appearance and jolly nature - particularly around children - had something to do with it.

Emma was nine months old when she traveled to meet Santa Wayne at his home in the Magic City.

As typical new parents, we sought to do everything "right," chronicling all of Ennma's "firsts" in stacks of photos and video. If she was going to meet Santa, we reasoned, we wouldn't settle for just any Ho! Ho! Ho!-ing man in a crimson suit. We had a personal connection and would go right to the source.

Wayne did not disappoint, as the photo of him and tiny Emma clearly shows. He and Mrs. Claus - Candy Claus, that is - had transformed their home into a setting right out of a children's Christmas story illustration. Even knowing the true identify of the man with the twinkling eyes and merry dimples, I became a Santa "believer" again. It was unavoidable.

I saw the same transformation last Saturday in the eyes of some of the older Chelsea School students - and the youngest students who are still years away from questioning the reality of Santa - this time from the vantage point of "the right jolly old elf" himself.

The Chelsea PTA had planned its second annual Breakfast with Santa event at the school and needed someone to don the red suit. I jumped at the chance to dust off my long-dormant theatrical talents and willingly volunteered. It was the most fun I've had in quite a while.

Since I knew most of the children through youth soccer or school events, I could address them by name and ask them questions about their families or hobbies and whether they had "tried to be good this year." The personal touch added to the magic and wonderment of the morning.

While the true meaning of Christmas is often obscured by seasonal commercialism, the innate character of Saint Nicholas - the model of the modern-day Santa - is one of unselfish giving.

Having the chance to tie on a belly pillow, whiten my mustache and lower my voice an octave to play my role, I now understand why Wayne has played his part for so many years. I gave a few hours of my time and received so much more in return.

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