Originally published December, 2021
My daughter Riley is 10 years old and she still believes in Santa Claus. Some people look at me funny when I say that, but that’s because they haven’t met the REAL Santa Claus. Riley has. In fact, she has been visiting the real Santa every year since she was a year and a half old. That’s the year when our local mall Santa slipped off a roof and perished, but it’s also the year when Bob McMasters found the fallen Santa’s coat, slipped it on and invoked The Santa Clause.
He’s been the real Santa ever since.
For nine years now, when Riley has gone to see Santa in the weeks leading up to Christmas, she has been treated to the breathtaking, magical experience that one would expect when meeting a timeless elf who spends months watching over children, seeing who’s been bad and who’s been good, and overseeing the mass production of marvelous toys so that he can drop down chimneys on Christmas Eve and deposit them beneath lovingly illuminated and decorated trees. He talks to Riley about her accomplishments, her travels, and specific things that have happened since their last visit. This year he told her how impressed he was with her Halloween costume, talked about her almost weekly visits to Six Flags, and discussed her ongoing love and obsession with performing in musical theater.
Naturally Santa had some help from our Facebook friendship and perhaps a conversation we shared in Messenger in the days before we visited, but who else besides the REAL Santa would take the time and trouble to make sure he was creating the most magical experience conceivable for his wide-eyed visitors? What could possibly be more important than preserving and perpetuating the spirit of generosity, happiness and good will embodied by everyone’s favorite holiday icon?
Riley is hardly your average 10-year-old, starting with the fact that she’s already 5’3″ and has the vocabulary of a young adult. She asks great questions that reveal she has an awareness and insight that will serve her well in a world that seems to grow more challenging by the day. I know full well that her years of believing in the REAL Santa are numbered, and soon that last vestige of childhood will go the way of watching Sesame Street, dressing up like a princess to go to Disney World, bedtime stories, and, probably, spending her weekends hanging out with her dad at Six Flags. I’ve had to let go of most of those things already, and much sooner than I was ready to let go of them, truth be told. The elation I feel when Santa Bob embraces Riley with his customary warm greeting and her eyes light up with that magic spark once again is truly one of my favorite things about Christmas.
Thanks in no small part to him, the magic of Santa has been preserved in our house once again!
PBS does a series entitled “Brief But Spectacular,” where they spotlight ordinary, everyday people who make a significant difference in the lives of others. Santa Bob McMasters is just such a person, and this has been my own personal Brief But Spectacular look at a man who embodies the spirit of Christmas as well as anyone I know. Thanks, Santa!
AFTERWORD: By the way, when we got home from seeing Santa, Riley started putting together gifts for kids in her class at school who aren’t likely to have many presents under their trees this Christmas. The fact that she recognizes those kids and her own ability to do something about it tells me the message of Christmas was received loud and clear. 🙂
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