I’m standing alongside Manhattan Beach Blvd. December 23rd waving greetoriously* to sore seated commuters in holiday traffic who are hoping they’ll make it through the intersection during the next green light… to hope again at the next intersection. I’m waving, smiling, doing a holiday jig and blowing kisses while the drivers are either, with fixed glaze avoiding all eye contact with me, looking past me with laser-beam dismissal or waving with ear-to-ear grins joyously. Have I mentioned yet I was in a classy, far out five star Santa outfit?** The responsive-warm-ones hailed me with cheer, some yelling out, “I always knew you existed… I love you Santa…. Merry Christmas!”
Horns were honked. Little children froze in their car seats and shyly covered their mouths when mom pointed me out to them. Women gawked. Grown men:dock workers, military satellite intelligence officers… phone book distributors, accountants, and two geeky plumbers ALL gave me their version of the beefy nod and wave-with-hands-gripping-the-steering-wheel.
There I was… anonymous… in a Santa outfit… getting the same response a rock star, Obama, General MacArthur, or a superhero would. I’ll admit it, I was soaking it in. Loving it, milking it, working it.
After gigging rush hour traffic, Lori (Mrs. Claus AKA “Santa’s Helper”) and I head to a friend’s home to make a surprise appearance at her Christmas party.
For the sake of brevity I’m leaving out the in-route stories of dropping into my daughter’s Pilates Studio for a photo-op working out (as best I could with a pillow cummerbund); running into a Vietnamese Nail Salon to give the shy staff hugs and offer up a robust “Ho, ho, ho!” in my distinctive pirate accent; and hanging out of the car window like my Lab Retriever wishing everyone the very merriest of seasons.
I pop into our friend’s party, spread a little cheer, hand out a few gifts and pose for pictures with every woman in the place. Everyone loves me, I’m Santa… I’m digging it.
The next stop is a set up/staged appearance for our two granddaughters: Jacqueline (3 ½) and Annie (2). The plan was for Lori to ring a few “reindeer” bells near the house which would flush the kids out onto the lawn with the anticipation of maybe seeing Santa in the neighborhood. From the front yard they would see “Santa” moseying down the street. The plan was that, in the dark, they wouldn’t recognize that it was me/grandpa/”Aboo”*** in a costume, and I would greet them by name with a heartfelt “Ho, ho, ho!” (minus the pirate accent), promise them some gifts, squeeze in a “Jesus is the reason for the season” and then graciously move on to tend to my reindeer and head to New Zealand.
So… as planned I’m five houses down the street approaching my granddaughters who are huddled together on the sidewalk whispering to Mrs. Claus, Mom, Dad, their Auntie and friends/family (similar to watching wildlife move about from the edge of a meadow at dusk). I’m about a house away and I see my older granddaughter leap into her mother’s arms… she’s scared to death! It strikes me that with my Santa boots, Santa wig, Santa hat and Santa shoulder pads I’m probably 6’8”. I’m Hulk Hogan or Keith Richards in red velvet, a monster with a fake beard and a fuzzy hat about to pounce on her. My buccaneer “Ho, ho, ho” didn’t help! She buries her head in the crook of her mom’s neck crying, “I don’t ever want to see Santa again… I don’t like Santa”. So much for my super star status! Meanwhile, the younger one, Annie, runs up to me… front and center, two feet away, and beneath red curls her full-moon eyes are gazing up at me in total wonderment. By the time I looked down and noticed her she’s in full stride, boldly standing there in exhilarated-run-together sentences with fast-forward age appropriate slurring of speech she gushes out, “Santa, Santa, Santa, I love you... you’re awesome Santa, Santa, I love you, love you, love you” and somewhere in all of this I heard the word “Tink” mentioned. I knew she was referring to Tinkerbelle, for she had been talking of nothing else for 64 days. She wanted Tinkerbelle! Tinkerbelle anything: sweat shirt, doll, coloring book, ring tone, dress, DVD, shoes … anything “Tink”.
Standing in the presence of Santa, her young heart free to express itself safely, she gushed searching for and finding every word she had that could speak of her adoration… and desire. It was desire… yet her marveling reverence was predominating. It was a moment she wasn’t going to miss and I didn’t want to end. Annie was putting it all out there. It was innocent, it was sweet, and it was as pure as anything in this life… the perfect meritage of love and longing.
I said goodbye, they all headed indoors, I headed up the street looking for a sleigh. Alone I started weeping. So in love, so very, very happy and longing/aching for my first moment in His presence in exhilarated-run-together sentences with fast-forward age appropriate slurring of speech…
– Craig McConnell
* So… is it really a crime to create new words?
** While I was in Australia with the Wild at Heart Team Lori and her girlfriend Leah spent a snowy week designing and sewing the certifiably authentic Santa outfit. We’re talking a work of beauty… the whole enchilada… lined coat, white gloves, fur topped boots et cetera.
***When my daughter was expecting our first grandchild I got the harebrain idea that the kids ought to call me “Captain”. I thought it would be respectful, fun… Craig…unique. The best laid plans of mice and men… So, Jacqueline was born and a few months later she decided I ought to be called “Aboo”… it stuck.