lantern picture

Three years ago, Tom and I saw Santa in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn while visiting Maryland for the holidays. The Jolly ‘Ole Elf had traveled from North Carolina, (his summer home he informed us with a mischievous twinkle in his eye), to share the joy of the season with children at a local mall.

Each time I saw him during our stay I practically (ok, OK, literally!) threw myself at him squealing loudly, “Santa!!”; even kissing the adorable little bald spot on his head while he sat enjoying his breakfast.

Did I hear you say crazed stalker?

He seemed unfazed by my less than dignified behavior, presumably used to unsolicited attention, and graciously allowed us to dine with him; although he didn’t have much of a choice as I plopped into the chair next to him. Santa was quite gregarious, as one would expect and I was spell bound by his gentle voice, rosy cheeks and kind old eyes. He answered the borage of questions that I innocently spewed. Everything from the benign, ‘What came first, the beard or the Santa gig?’ To a more tactless, ‘Have you ever been peed on?’. Yes, I went there, inquiring minds need to know!

I won’t soon forget what Santa told me before he left our breakfast table to escape prepare for his day,

Never lose your child-like wonder.”

I haven’t lost this quality; in fact, I have always been, and continue to be quite curious. I wonder about many things, especially during the Christmas season.

As a mother; I wonder how long Mary labored to give birth and how much her baby, Jesus, weighed.

Emerging from a background where the word Holiday was synonymous with Family Reunion, I wonder how Thanksgiving and Christmas became more about shopping than spending time with loved ones.

 While we enjoy a certain level of financial comfort, I wonder how one can become as desperate as to steal coins from the Salvation Army donation pot.

As an adult who has endured many surgeries and much pain, I wonder why children need to suffer.

I wonder what happened to the spirit of Christmas that I remember. The lights, the smells, the sounds, that is; until I am in the company of people like Santa Sam and my brother.

My brother, Rick, is a wonderful man with a huge heart, a gentle spirit, kind blue eyes, a shock of white hair and a fuzzy white beard. He bears an uncanny resemblance to St. Nick and plays the part, WELL!

He is Fort Walton’s own Santa Claus, making appearances all over his hometown of Mary Esther, Florida. He visits churches, schools, eldercare homes, walks parade routes and has even taken to the high seas spreading the joy of the season aboard cruise ships.

It is a wonder to me how he is able to remain so jolly spreading cheer everywhere he goes with the demands of a fulltime job that requires much travel and a wife with Alzheimer’s. One would think Rick would be embittered by the memories of Christmases past; a time when he and his wife enjoyed traveling to visit family and friends, his “sleigh” filled with copious amounts of homemade chocolate chip cookies, which he distributed with pride having made them himself.

Now, with much help from his daughter and the staff at a wonderful adult facility coordinating his wife’s care, my brother has been able to create new holiday traditions as Santa Claus. Although he is my sibling, I cannot tell you which came first, the beard or the Santa gig. However, what I can tell you is that I have seen a side of my brother that leaves me awed and immensely proud. He has a peace about him that is palpable and rarely goes unnoticed by those around him. He finds joy in the little things, like a smile or an unexpected touch of his wife’s hand; things we so often take for granted.

My brother has demonstrated that the spirit of Christmas does still exist and that childlike wonder has nothing to do with curiosity, but that it’s contained in an innocent heart. He has taught me that life is like the Christmas season; interrupting our ordinary and exploding with beautiful unexpected surprises waiting to be received, though some may come wrapped in neurologic, immunologic or osteopathic bows. Perhaps not exactly what we were expecting or something we would think to put on our wish list; nevertheless, we can choose to accept these dispensations, or allow them to forever ruin the holidays of our lives.

By his example, (which includes a perpetual beard, green tee-shirts and bright red suspenders clinging to his Bermuda shorts); my brother has shown me that Christmas is not a just season, but a lifestyle to be embraced when you peel away the layers of customary commercial distractions and reveal what is at the heart of century’s of tradition:

love, family, expectant waiting, generosity and selflessness.

Even as I approach Yuletide #49, I wait with no less anticipation than my first for the arrival of that jolly ‘ole elf; and without hesitation, I can respond to that age-old question: Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and I am proud to say, he is my brother!