We'd heard that Santa was going to be available from 5 to 8 PM, so we arrived at 4:55 PM, expecting that we'd be among the first in line. We assumed wrong. After standing in line for 30 minutes, we moved six inches. It turns out, the Merrifield Santa is a tradition in these parts and people started forming a line several hours before he even arrived.
It took us just over three hours to see Santa.
It's a miracle we waited at all, since waiting is one of our least favorite things to do. But soon after we'd arrived, I'd overheard the family in front of us say that although it might take us a few hours, they were experts on this Santa because they've been coming to visit him for the past 25 years. Ultimately, they convinced us he was well worth the wait.
As we waited, we wrote (and re-wrote) letters to Santa and socialized with our fellow line-standers ...
Henry made his first love connection. She was a four-year-old girl who was wearing light-up Toy Story 3 boots. If that wasn't awesome enough, she shared his fascination with dinosaurs. As I watched the two happily playing, for the better part of an hour, I couldn't shake the thought that one day this little girl very well might be my daughter-in-law. I've never had a thought like that, before. And I'd prefer not to think like that again. I, instead, opt to see my children as children. Never growing up, always living with me and whole heartedly believing in Santa Claus.
I snapped off some pictures of letters that had been written, over the years, to this exact Santa (who has been serving as Santa since 1966).
Some of them were touching and funny...
And some made my heart break for children who have painful challenges in their young lives.
The wait was long to see the Man in Red because Santa, who was perched in his REAL sleigh, would take the time to talk to each and every family. He jumped down from the sleigh, once, to sing "Come All Ye Faithful" and tell the children about the nativity. He then climbed back in to his sleigh and reviewed everyone's letter that they wrote to him. And with each person from toddlers to teens, he challenged them to think about the real meaning of Christmas.
If you can't read the tiny font on this "Open Letter from Santa," in my opinion, the best part is:
The one special gift that I would like to give each and everyone of you this Christmas is the gift of understanding the meaning of Christmas. It is not the toys that are important, for toys break. It is not the games that are important, for they can become dull. It is not the clothes that are important, for clothes wear out.
What is important is people doing things for people. The truest gift you cannot wrap with paper of silver or gold. The truest gift of Christmas you cannot even hold. There is a meaning in Christmas, far more important than Santa Claus, and if you can grasp the full meaning, you will have a gift that will last your lifetime, a gift far greater than Santa could ever bring.
By the time we arrived, he was completely hoarse from talking and singing with everyone. So Elizabeth reached in to my purse and pulled out a cough drop which she handed to him and very sweetly said, "Santa, I really need for you to take care of yourself because if you go to heaven.... WHO WILL DELIVER THE TOYS?"
(She has never been one to mince words.)
While his beard wasn't as natural looking as some of the professional mall Santas that I've seen over the years, his message was true and like everyone else who stood on their feet for 180+ minutes tonight, we walked out with a warm feeling. Everyone was kindly smiling and believing that yes, indeed.
He is the REAL Santa.
After he'd talked with the children, and told them in very general terms the gifts he'd be bringing them, he'd cut a string of souvenir ribbon, which he gave them with specific instructions. Henry was told to put a sweet potato on the kitchen table before he went to sleep. He instructed Carolyn to put her shoes outside of her bedroom door with a potato in them. He instructed William to put his Santa hat on the table with a potato inside of it. And he instructed Elizabeth to put an apple in her Santa hat. On Christmas morning, he said, they would find presents where ever they had left things, just as he'd instructed.
My mind was swirling. How was I supposed to remember all of this? But as we were exiting, Santa's helper slipped me a note and with a wink said, "Here's your homework."
Tonight, when we returned home, Carolyn told me that she wanted to put her potato in her father's shoes. Because they're MUCH bigger than her shoes.
What is important is people doing things for people.
A larger shoe isn't for her benefit. Of course, not! She just wants to help Santa out by making sure he has enough space to leave her present.