When Santa Rides Away

Dedicated to Santa Bob McMasters – the REAL Santa

Everyone knows the story of Santa Claus, the North Pole, the elves, the reindeer, chimneys and enchanted toy deliveries to all the good little boys and girls on Christmas Eve. Sometime in the middle of the night that bridges Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Santa finishes his rounds and points his sleigh towards home. In the books and movies he usually gives out a hearty “HO HO HO!” and wishes “all a good night,” as he disappears in the star-lit sky.

It is, by all accounts, a joyous time for Santa, the culmination of a year of list-making, list-checking, toy building and toy delivery. There is also a bittersweet quality to the night, as Santa revealed to me recently when I was able to catch up with him shortly before he whisked himself up my chimney. Here is my account of that special conversation:

“The toys are all delivered, and the world’s children are still asleep,” said Santa. “The magic that will ensue when the sun rises and kids leap out of their own beds and onto their parents hasn’t yet begun. I land back at home near the barn next to my workshop and the elves erupt in excitement, cheering and laughing as they unhook my reindeer and prepare to store away the sleigh. There is often a moment here, as I step down out of my holiday hotrod, that I feel just a bit of sadness in my heart.”

He paused for a bite of chocolate chip cookie and a swig of ice-cold milk.

“You see,” Santa continued, “it will be 12 long months before I get another start. It will be 12 long months before I see these marvelous children again. I can’t help but lift up a little prayer for them as I think about a world that has become ever more dangerous for these most innocent babes. Some of my favorite children over the years have been victims of school shootings. Some have been victims of abuse or negligence, disease or tragic accidents. Some have grown just a little too old and lost their sense of wonder about the world. Tragically, though I have looked over these children since they were born, they may not come back to see me next year. They may not write a letter to me next year or leave milk and cookies by the fireplace for my mid-journey snack. When I think about these children, my heart breaks just a little and tears well up in my eyes.”

As he told me this, Santa wiped real tears away from his eyes with the fluffy fur cuff of his red jacket. After a moment he regained his composure and continued.

“Raising my eyes to the sky, I whisper a soft ‘amen,’ hoping that a loving God with whom I share my special night will keep watch over our young charges and bring them safely back to see me the following Christmas season.”

Clearing his throat, Santa observed a moment of silence and then proceeded.

“It lasts only for an instant, and then the celebration of the elves wins me over as Mrs. Claus rewards me with a steaming cup of hot chocolate and an even warmer hug. My Christmas spirit restored, I thank my elves, give each of my faithful steeds a playful rub of the neck and turn towards the house for a long winter’s nap.”

Here Santa paused, the smile pulling on the corners of his mouth disappearing briefly.

“Still, as I pull up my covers and reach to turn off the lamp beside my bed, the missing children haunt me once more…both those I’ve lost in years past and the ones who might not be back next year. Once more I silently ask the Christ of Christmas to please bless them and keep them safe. As I drift off to sleep I see those little lost souls gathered around sweet Jesus, celebrating their Heavenly Christmas with the Prince of Peace. Perhaps it’s just my imagination, a dream that comes on as sleep sets in, but it does bring me peace.”

Santa winks at me as he turns to go. I thank him for his time, and then, just as he’s about to fly away into the night, he turns.

“Don’t get me wrong, being Santa is the greatest job in the entire world. Spreading love, joy and the spirit of Christmas is a blessing beyond words. When I see the world’s children filled with the wonder of the season, it fills my heart with hope for the year to come. Maybe these children will bring about a kinder, gentler time. That’s my final prayer, as Santa rides away.”

“Oh! And you can quote me on that,” he concluded.

Having said that, he put his finger up to the side of his nose and vanished in a red blur right up my through my fireplace.

So I wrote this down for Santa, who has meant so much to my family over the years. I vividly remember squeezing my eyes shut tight and trying desperately to go to sleep on Christmas Eves gone by. Now I see the anticipation in my daughter’s eyes as we read our traditional Christmas stories just before bedtime on the night before Christmas. It’s the least I can do to give back just a little to that ageless jolly old soul who brings such joy to so many.


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