I am haunted by the ghosts of Christmas past.
And they are good ghosts.
These ghosts are memories that come back each season. Some are wrapped around Santa Claus. Others are centered on the baby Jesus and the miracle of his birth. Some blend the two traditions.
One of my favorites is about a basketball I wanted from Santa when I was a little boy. I also wanted him to bring a Charlie McCarthy-type ventriloquist dummy, but my mom said I could only ask for one of them. I still believed in Santa and chose the basketball.
Then wandering around the attic, I saw a new basketball in the corner. So, I thought, there is no real Santa and my parents bring those gifts. So I told my mom that I had changed my mind and was asking Santa to bring me the dummy instead of the basketball. I was thinking I could get both.
But on Christmas morning there was only a dummy and no basketball from Santa. “Don’t you remember?” my mom asked. “You said you wanted Santa to bring you the ventriloquist’s dummy, and that is just what he did.”
Later in the day, when it was time for family gifts, my parents gave me the basketball I had seen in the attic.
And I believed in Santa for one more year.
Remembering our encounters and those of our children and grandchildren dealing with the legendary Santa brings me smiles and tears.
For many years my daughter’s family has hosted a neighborhood “Santa party.” My job is to dress up like Santa and let the children sit on my lap for a photo. When children are 2 or 3, they are likely to be afraid of the old man in a crazy costume and big beard. When my grandchildren were that age I tried to explain to them that the “pretend Santa” at the party was really me. I even let them look at the costume and the fake beard. It did not matter. When I was dressed like Santa, they would not come near me.
Times change. These same children, no longer toddlers, laugh and taunt me when I put on my costume. “He’s not the real Santa,” they shout. And the other children join in, all except the very young.
Remembering my grandchildren’s fear of Santa brought back a delicious memory. My daughter had also showed her fear of Santa when she was a toddler. It was at that now long ago Christmastime that her mother and I had finally persuaded her to give up her pacifier.
We told her that when Santa came to bring her presents, he would, in exchange, come into her room while she was sleeping, and take her pacifier back to the North Pole. Later that Christmas Eve night, we heard the door to my daughter’s room open and then heard the thuds of her feet moving deliberately towards the stairs. As I rushed up to find out what was wrong, I saw her heave her pacifier down the stairs. Then, as she turned around and raced toward her room, muttered, “I don’t want Santa to come in my room!”
Is Santa too much the feature of my Christmas memories? Maybe so. A few years ago the folks at my home church decided to banish the Santa who had traditionally appeared at the church’s Christmas party with small gifts for the children. At first there was an angry reaction—and a series of arguments in the church between “anti-Santas” and “pro-Santas.” But in the end “the anti-Santas” won, and, at least in that church the message of Christmas does not have to compete with the myth of Santa.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.