My volunteer badge clipped to my red sweater, I stand inside the Detroit Institute of Arts. A reindeer headband accents my holiday cheer. I’m happy to oblige when asked to take tickets for pictures with Santa. As a youngster, I believed in Santa Claus with all my heart.
A sense of expectation swells in the queue of parents and children as Santa poses in his chair for a camera check. Oh the joy of Noel Night in downtown Detroit!
Impeccably dressed in his red and white suit and bearded with his own whiskers, he utters not one “Ho! Ho! Ho!” The twinkle in his eyes says it all. This Santa embodies how I imagine the real Saint Nicholas.
I recall my dad on Christmas Eve. Ever the prankster, he would point to the darkness outside our living room’s window. “Look! Up there, over the Rivard’s house. There’s Rudolph’s red nose! Listen to Santa’s sleigh bells!”
I’d stand still as a statue and strain my eyes and ears. Year after year, never did I doubt Dad told the truth. After all, I believed in Jesus without seeing Him.
Santa’s cameraman motions thumbs up. I collect tickets and drop them into a box. “Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas!” guests reply.
I believed Santa, Mrs. Claus, and their elves lived in the North Pole-a place like Heaven. Even when Santa didn’t eat all our cookies and drink the milk we left, I believed in his eternal return Christmas Eve.
Until my ninth year.
That summer while at play, a cousin my age leaned close. “Your mommy wrote my mommy a letter and said she’s pregnant, that she’s always pregnant.”
Unawares, my cousin taught me a new word. By summer’s end, my childhood innocence unraveled entirely. I knew where babies came from and Santa no longer existed.
As the line for Santa thins, I observe his gentleness with the children, teens, and adults. It’s odd. I can’t remember sitting on Santa’s knee as a child. Did I ever tell him what I wanted for Christmas? Miraculously, he always left the desire of my heart under our tree.
Santa looks across the spacious hall and catches my eye. He waves a gloved hand and points to his knee.
I shake my head and point to the ticket box.
“Iris, I’ll take tickets if you’d like a picture with Santa,” my volunteer director says.
Santa waves again.
In a moment of unexpected fulfillment, I sit on Santa’s knee.
“What’s your name?”
We pose for our picture.
“What would you like for Christmas, Iris?”
This Santa is serious about his assignment. I consider what I want most in the whole world. “It’s a hard request, Santa.”
“Go for it.”
Eye to eye, I spoke it.
He sighed. “I don’t have power to do that.”
I nodded. “But you can pray.”
“Yes, I can.”
“Merry Christmas, Santa.”
“Merry Christmas, Iris.”
Dear Reader, I believe in the first Noel Night with all my heart. God with us. Hope of His world.
Email Iris at