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I was born in 1941, into more beautiful and simple times.
Just three months before the U.S.’s entry into World War Two.
My early childhood was magnificent. Despite all the horrors that were taking place in the world, my parents and family managed to shield me. Despite all the suffering and sacrifice, I was allowed, with my brother Ronny and sister Barbara, to simply be a child.
I’ve never thanked my parents enough for this gift, nor can I ever.
My family, plus my uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbors, grandparents and my village in general, kept me pure and innocent as long as they possibly could.
Maybe that’s what all really good villagers do throughout the world. Good villagers know the secret of whistling past the graveyard, the secret of distracting yourself with simple pleasures and wide-eyed fantasies and lesson-laden folklore.
Anyhow, part of my joyful childhood was spent thinking about Santa Claus and all that he and Mrs. Claus represented. Mother and sister Barbara made sure we boys did not insult Santa by thinking of him as merely someone who brought us lots of undeserved loot each year. They carefully instilled in us the idea that Santa represented how good people could be to each other, given the opportunity. If Santa was to be good to us, we would have to learn to be good to Santa, too.
We respected Santa Claus and wrote him letters, making certain that we did more than ask for goodies. We asked how he was feeling, whether he and Mrs. Claus were weathering their perpetual winter ok, how Donder and Blitzen were getting along. We promised him we would leave lots of milk or hot chocolate and cookies for him, and of course a bowl of raisins for the reindeer. Early on, we knew the importance of frequent snacks when you’re working–or playing–hard.
We even knew what Santa Claus really looked like.
The fact that Santa was a black man and a white man at the same time did not confuse us at all, because we had visual proof.
White Santa looked exactly like Edmund Gwenn, a wonderful old character actor who played Kris Kringle in the movie, “Miracle on 34th Street.” Black Santa looked exactly like a beautiful color painting that appeared alongside Roark Bradford’s story, “How Come Christmas,” in Collier’s Magazine.
“Miracle on 34th Street” changed my life forever. It’s the story of how cynicism is useless in the face of fantasy. It’s the story of how fantasy is the only truth in a child-filled world. Santa lives!
“How Come Christmas” changed my life forever. It’s the story of Santa Claus through the eyes of African American children, who turned out to be exactly like White American children.
The only other Santa Claus-like figure in folklore that we believed in passionately was James Baskett, who played Uncle Remus in Walt Disney’s movie, “Song of the South.” Uncle Remus was every bit as heroic and gentle and child-loving as our White Santa and our Black Santa. We even suspected that all three were the same person.
I can’t think of anybody who exerted more influence in my life–to this very day–than Santa Claus. And I still remember what I discovered in childhood: There are Santas everywhere. They are rare, but they can be sought out and found if you look hard enough.
I guess I’ve spent my entire life looking for and secretly appreciating my Santa Claus heroes. These were people who profoundly believed in the child each of us tries to hide from the world, except when it’s safe. I still have them comfortably nearby, in my stories about them, in little keepsakes, in small reminders of their existence.
You could do worse in life than believe in Santa Claus, the kind of Santa Claus who can pop up anywhere in the world and treat you with kindness and respect. If you go looking for Santa, Santa will be available. Doesn’t matter whether you’re religious, unreligious, antireligious. Doesn’t matter whether you are 95 or five. Santa is right there, waiting to give you a reassuring smile and the gift of attention. Don’t blink and miss him!
(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed