by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
The holiday season starts early for children; Halloween is the unofficial start for a three-year-old. Accompanying their moms, they notice Christmas lights on a tree at the local department store. There are packages—boxes trimmed in gold—and twinkling lights around the doors and windows. Moms may say, “Christmas is still two months away,” but the Santa on his sleigh in the store window calls, “Christmas is coming.”
My youngest, Chris, was just three and his older brother had him convinced that a sled full of toys would be delivered to him any day now. As we got ready to go out trick or treating, I heard Chris say to his friend, “We’re going to get candy so we can share with Santa.”
At each house he would yell out, “Trick or treat for Santa.” Neighbors laughed and dropped in a couple more pieces of sweets.
The month between Halloween and Thanksgiving flew by for me, but for Chris, each day took forever. As more and more stores filled with Christmas decorations, he was convinced that any night would bring him his sleigh of loot. Then, without warning, neighbors decorated their houses and front lawns with lights, There was a reindeer, and on another roof, Santa in his sleigh. Every night Chris would ask if it was time to hang the stockings. I could see the disappointment on his face as I explained that we had another month to go.
Finally, I read that Santa would be flying into the mall on Saturday at 11 a.m. We were living in San Diego at the time, and Santa would be coming to the Mission Valley Mall. That would be a big day for Chris. His brother had coached him on what to ask for. Saturday slowly came and the big moment was within reach.
We got to the mall and found a place to park. Going upstairs to the first floor open area, I could see that there were at least 100 mothers with children, waiting for the appearance of the season’s celebrity. It was beginning to warm up and kids were shedding their outer winter clothes. Mittens were dropped and coats came off. Now there were a hundred mothers holding children’s clothes and children starting to get bored with nothing to do.
The loudspeaker came to life and a curtain opened to a small gingerbread house with fake snow on the roof. In front of the house was a large red and gold trimmed chair, flanked by two elves dressed in red and green with candy striped socks. “I see something in the air,” a voice shouted from the speaker.
The elves looked up and pointed. All the moms looked up and could see a helicopter approaching the mall, and said, “Look there. See it? That must be where Santa is coming.” A mall full of children and moms watched as a large man in red and white jumped out of the plane. He fell toward earth, then his parachute opened. For a moment, he was pulled back and a gasp went up from the waiting crowd.
Then, without warning, the off-shore air currents caught the parachute, and slowly Santa was pulled toward the bay. His red and white suit was visible for a long time as he got smaller and smaller. I felt Chris pull his hand from mine and let out a cry of pain. Children were crying, moms were trying to reassure them, and the elves were beside themselves trying to outshout the growing sound of disappointment.
“Boys and girls. He’ll get here. He must have needed to stop off somewhere but he’ll come. We promise.” Some of the kids were comforted but many were not. I heard Mothers say, “I’m sure he’ll come. Let’s go get an ice cream cone while we wait.” Or a cookie, or a cup of chocolate. One by one, sobbing children left with clearly irritated mothers.
No one was listening to them when the loudspeaker came to life again: “We have heard from Santa and he is on his way in. He just had a small detour but told us to tell you, he’ll be here soon.”
It took about an hour for Santa to finally make his appearance. By then, many of the waiting mothers had given up and taken their kids to the closest fast food shops. Chris and I moved up in line and waited, he with a bag of candy and I with a cup of coffee. Mrs. Fields did more sales in that hour than in the whole month before. The food court was happy for the delay and there were lines at the restrooms.
Santa eventually got there, and we worked our way up the line. Then we were next in line, as children sat on Santa’s lap and asked for their wishes. An elf came up to Chris, who now decided to let out a scream of terror and pull back. A few kids in back of us were beginning to let out cries in sympathy with Chris. I could see other moms look at us with expressions of understanding. All this time waiting in line for Santa to appear, and now—fear of the big man in the red suit. I picked him up, kissed his cheeks and took the easy way out. We left.
Christmas finally came, and while Chris didn’t get a whole sleigh of toys, he was happy. The day after, he went out to play with Tommy, who lived two houses away. Tommy’s grandmother was working in her front yard and watched as the two little boys discovered a good Christmas tree discarded in a neighbor’s gutter. Putting it in Tommy’s little red wagon, they rescued the tree and brought it to me. “Mom, look with we found. Someone threw out this perfect tree and we got it and it’s free.”
Grandma and I laughed. The neighbor who had thrown out the tree, was taking down all the lawn decorations, explaining that they were going on vacation for two weeks and wanted everything down before they left.
We took the tree into the garage to put out the next garbage day. I explained that there would be many trees out for free but we didn’t need one now.
“We could save it for next year,” both Tommy and Chris said.
It took awhile, but eventually we took down our own tree and packed away the lights and bulbs. Next year we’ll try again to visit Santa. The years of wonder are so few as they grow, but the memories will stay for me as long as the season comes around again.