Must have been a Gypsie
Years ago a neighbor said,
"The trouble with Santa is it detracts
from the spiritual message of Christmas."
"Oh," says I -- and wrote this, perhaps in time
for you to read it to someone.
THE LAST SANTA
Arthur had always dreamed of being Santa Claus. As a small boy he had absorbed each bit of "Santa" lore as other children sampled cookies, candy and fruitcake. Dancing rain deer replaced "snow angels" and each snow fort became a sleigh from which to soar above the rooftops. The other kids laughed at Arthur's antics since he was as skinny as a candy cane, and his face was more yellow than "ruddy", and he never got any gifts for Christmas, no less gave any.
Arthur was happy with this laughter. It was enough to make others laugh and dance at Christmas time. Nobody in Arthur's family was happy -- ever. He dreamed of his mother smiling almost as much as he dreamed of being Santa. But Arthur couldn't be Santa. He was only four.
Each passing Christmas brought years to the youth and a great deal of height. Illusions of Santa as an elf and responder to kids' letters gave way to "Santa helper" and commercial realism. But the dream had not died; ersatz or not, ill fitting costume or not, black hair showing thought the white or not. Arthur tried to be Santa -- to play Santa -- to help the other "Saints." They wouldn't allow it! He was too young. Certainly he was too skinny!
Arthur ate. He worked in the school lunch program. He worked at a bakery in the afternoon. His dreams shifted to food most of the year. He only grew taller, not bigger. Some of the other Santa "wannabes" were not all that fat either so when December came he could at least try on the costumes at the department store tryouts. They laughed, which was all right, but he was not selected. His "ho, ho, ho" was not deep enough. He didn't have any whiskers of his own. Santas had to be old and big. Arthur learned that having a dream and making it come true was not easy.
Arthur worked at being Santa. He wore red all year. He took diction lessons. He ate. He gave away everything he had. The trouble was that people really didn't want Santas, except for a couple of weeks a year. For Arthur, it wasn't possible to be a part-time Santa. For the rest of the world it wasn't possible for Arthur to be Santa at all. But then, for the rest of the world Santa didn't exist at all.
Arthur's fascination with Santa didn't mean that that he ignored the true meaning of Christmas. He went to church every Sunday with his Grandmother and listened to the sermons and lessons carefully. He was sure that he would discover why people only acted certain ways during Christmas time and could be terribly different at others. As Arthur became an adult he realized he didn't just want to be Santa at Christmas -- he wanted to be like Santa all year long. Just try to tell someone in June that you are Santa Claus. See where it gets you!
Arthur had to go off to war. The same people who said he couldn't be Santa said he had to fight for ideas he wasn't sure he believed in. He thought soldiers in a distant land might like a Santa, though, and wouldn't care if he was skinny. Instead, Arthur lost his arm and had to come home. Now they said he could never be Santa because he would scare children and not be able to pass out gifts properly. But Arthur was stubborn. The more reasons people found for him not to be Santa, the more he thought of ways to be and act like the myth of his youth. The dream kept him from being too lonely, and too sad.
Arthur had a brilliant idea. He worked very hard and saved all of his money. Then he had a special Santa suit made. It was spectacular! Stuffed with special filling it made him very fat. The fur lined cap pulled low over his pointed ears. Instead of just white whiskers he had a complete mask made that padded out is narrow features and hid his patchy hair. His non-existent arm was disguised in a sleeve that clutched a gift sack over his shoulder. Special boots were designed to help him stand for long hours. Christmas was coming and Arthur was finally ready for anything. He went looking for a job. No luck! His outfit was so good it made the other Santas look bad. Only one small shopping mall said he could pass out candy canes out front. It was very very cold that year and few people lingered out of doors. Only Arthur was warm in his special outfit. Maybe clothes did make the man!
The stores closed and those with homes went to their warmth or off to midnight mass at the huge cathedral. All of the other Santas disappeared. Arthur thought of entering the church but wasn't sure he would be welcome in his bright red and furry garb. Instead he sat by the manger and crèche outside and thought of another cold night hundreds of years before and those who had no warm place to stay. Slowly Arthur smiled.
He marched out into the freezing night and sought the homeless and hidden drunks and runaways. He said to them, "I have a gift for you -- come." And they did. People who had no trust for others and had lost faith in most everything followed the "jolly elf." They remembered the security of their early Christmases and the hope and love they had once shared. He guided them back to the manger and had them huddle closely together where their combined warmth would protect them through the night. Arthur went out again and again, protected by his special Santa suit to save the helpless. Hundreds heard his call and gathered to share and sing in the Christmas dawn. Some police arrived at the disturbance but he told them, "I need no help on my appointed rounds." Later the officers joined in the song and closeness of the milling crowd.
The bishop came out to survey the scene and could only marvel at this special sharing of Christmas spirit. The passing throng gave prayer at the crèche and drew more warmth from the effort. The Bishop added his own prayers and blessed the event. He sent priests out to find the "angel in red," but they could not. So they all helped the lame and weak join the celebration. The Bishop thought of the Christ child and of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. "If the love between the Father and the Son is strong enough to generate the Holy Spirit, then can the love of man produce a real Santa?"
The sun rose on many cheery faces that morning, but not on Santa's. He was no where to be seen. Only memory remained as it did for children everywhere on Christmas morning, and the child that lingered in every soul that Christmas day. Arthur's tall gangly frame did not seem out of place in the midst of the singing crowd and no one cared that his voice was too high and slightly out of tune.