Throughout one’s childhood is there a man so revered with so much passion as that of Santa Claus, Jolly Old St. Nick, Father Christmas, or whatever moniker you and your family gave to a man that slips unseen and unheard into your home to reward good children with good tidings? The mythological presence of the man in red, the purveyor of festive cheer, riled young boys and girls into a frenzied fit of wonder and excitement. Their cheers and squeals a delightful inspiration to what it once meant to be young and free from the stresses of adulthood. A man that throughout the ages allowed children to regale him, upon his lap, with their wanton desires and wishes all the while meeting each with a reassuring wink and nod. Their fondest and often wildest dreams granted as they wiped their noses and sneezed upon his brow. Any parent with a child in daycare knowing that their bundle of joy carries with them a plethora of germs. A regular melting pot of microorganisms. Santa never turns away a single boy or girl. He only opens his loving arms to each and all.
Somehow, somewhere, as we progress through our lives, we become an adult in almost every sense of the word. Memories of our favorite toys, the dreams of a white, snow-filled holiday and the innocent sense of eternal hope that comes with the Christmas season are replaced with the stresses and rigors of an unforgiving world, an SUV and the annual hope that this Christmas will not be the Christmas to torpedo our bank accounts. I could remember caroling with the church choir and bringing our brand of good cheer to any who would care to listen. Now, I carol to myself in the car and pray that no one is watching.
Recounting my childhood and weighing it against the responsible nature of adulthood, I determined that I needed to recapture that sense of wonderment that fills so many little beating hearts and whimsical minds. Thus, despite numerous protests and cries of insanity from my friends and loved ones, I trekked northward in hopes of finding that last bastion of tinsel and glitter, the North Pole.
And by trekked, I meant took a train to NYC.
Hours later I arrived at Grand Central Station. A go-between before I continued my journey with the last rail stop in Montreal. From there I would hire a guide to take me into the Arctic. But I had a few hours to burn, so I took time to enjoy the city so glamorized in holiday movies. I wasn’t disappointed by the Christmas décor, and the general good feeling of this is where you should be at Christmas. Lights, mistletoe and of course, Santa’s reindeer were suspended overhead. The ladder bounded from window to window in a stupendous display of lasers and lights — an eccentric and modern take on the ritual of illuminated reindeer decorations.
“You seem to be lost.” A woman’s voice cheerfully came from over my shoulder. I turned to see a white-haired older woman who grinned from ear to ear. She beamed the spirit of Christmas.
“I’ve never been to New York, and I was just admiring the splendor,” I answered returning the smile.
“Perhaps you’re looking for something special? Someone special?” She asked. It was then I took in what she was wearing. It was a graciously ornate and embroidered Mrs. Claus costume to the glimmer of what appeared to be a thousand snowflakes that cascaded down her blouse. What amazed me the most was that nobody seemed to take notice. Had it been any other place in the world, other than the Big Apple, I think I would believe I was hallucinating.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” I offered, but she replied with a simple shake of her head.
“I think I would. Could you do me a favor and close your eyes?” She asked the docile tones politely in her voice whisking me away from my faculties as I closed my eyes without protest.
“Can I open my eyes?” I asked before suddenly feeling the rush of wind and the patter of heavy snow upon my shoulders. I opened them and was greeted with the site of a frozen wasteland. I shielded my eyes from the blinding winds as I pushed towards a light on the horizon. The howl of the blustery northern squalls deafened the crunch of the packed, ivory snow beneath my feet. As I encroached upon the outer limits of the lights’ brilliance, the weather changed before my very eyes. There I stood beneath the tacit wonder of the northern lights as they danced in the midnight sky. I became lost in the natural choreography until I was jolted back to reality by the bear paw sized hand on my shoulder.
“Mr. Kellner! What a joy it is to have you at our home!” The man’s voice thundered as I turned to meet him. I found myself no more than chest high and facing down a soft, crimson red, wool jacket. I immediately realized who stood before me.
“Santa?” I mumbled my voice staggered between astonishment and exhilaration.
I managed to gather myself and burst out into a boyish glee.
“Santa! My God you’re here, you’re real! I have so many questions for you!”
“Of course Mr. Kellner, of course! But first, why don’t we get you inside and warm you up. Then we can have a little chat.” He said with a voice filled with love and perpetual joy.
As I passed through the tremendous wooden door and into the workshop, I took in all the sights. I lost my voice as a gazed upon the grandeur that was ground zero of the yuletide season. The countless wreaths hung, the brilliant glow of the lights strung so carefully on a boundless ceiling, the roaring fires, the subtle scent of pine and the alluring aroma of freshly baked pastries all designed to captivate and were created with care. I asked myself if I had died in that train station and went to my form of personal heaven.
“We’ll pass through the workshop floor then we can talk in my study,” Santa said as we made our way through the lobby and onto the floor.
The workshop was a marvel of Christmas ingenuity. Banners looped across the walls heralding that Christmas Eve was almost near, tinsel gleamed and twinkled in the starlight that cascaded from the glass dome ceiling above us. The elves worked with unearthly speed. Their nibble fingers were a graceful ballet of assembly and construction. Even the most complex toys, gadgets, and gizmos were done in mere moments before another set arrived. One by one, in the blink of an eye, the gifts were wrapped and sent off to another, unseen, part of the Santa’s factory of happiness.
“I can’t believe my eyes.” I proclaimed. “So much love and care put into every last detail!”
“It’s a perfectionist’s nightmare.” Santa joked.
We came to a room near the workshop. The door was covered in Christmas lights and garland with a sign that read “Father Christmas.” Inside, another fireplace warmed the room. A stack of birch logs rested neatly on the stone floor. Across the fireplace were two leather-bound chairs. As I sat, I sank comfortably into the cushion as if I was being placed upon a plush throne.
“So Mr. Kellner. What brings you all the way to the North Pole?” Santa asked as he poured me the richest cup of cocoa I had ever seen and he offered a shortbread biscuit which I greedily ate.
“Well, I was hoping to interview you Santa. Or is it Kris? St. Nick?” I asked realizing I had reverted to the honorific I knew as a kid.
The big man smiled and sipped on his cocoa leaving a streak of chocolate on his snowy white beard.
“What did you know me as when you were just a boy?”
“Santa. You were always Santa Claus to me.”
“Good. You can call me Santa. Now then why don’t we begin the interview? As you know, it is getting close to show time so I must insist we be brief. Lots of boys and girls are waiting in the hopes their dreams come true. Can’t have a child not get a gift come Christmas.” He answered.
“Let’s begin,” I said grinning foolishly.
I suppose I should get some of the obvious questions out of the way first. First, how did this place come to exist and how long have you lived at the North Pole?
The North Pole was an easy decision when it came to finding a location. It’s remote and allows us to create the magic you see before you without fear of discovery or interruption from the outside world. Of course, that is easy when you can only get here when I decide to have you here. Hence why I sent Mrs. Claus to fetch you. (He to kitchen where she diligently works with elves over a stove)
What made me so special? I mean there are countless children and people who would love to meet you. Why pick me out of the crowd?
You seemed pretty determined. You were prepared to brave the elements to try and find a place that in a physical form you could not. You’d likely have died out there exposed to the elements. I can’t say there is much Christmas cheer in watching a man freeze to death. Every so often someone gets the idea to try and brave the Arctic to either meet me or catch a glimpse of the workshop. (He shakes his head)
So I wasn’t the first?
Heavens no Mr. Kellner. There have been plenty over the centuries that have decided to try and find me. They’ve all passed through those doors, and it pleases me to say they’ve all been quite pleasant.
How come I’ve never heard about them? Wouldn’t they immediately run to the news? Social media?
(Laughing) It’s a Christmas miracle! Think about it, Mr. Kellner. How do you react when someone claims they saw Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster? Hopeful I’m sure, but no one believes them. The lucky ones get a TV show out of it, but the truth of the matter is that there is another reason you’ve yet to hear about this place. We can get to that later.
We’ll get back to that, but let’s switch subjects. The elves. Where do they come from? Do they live here?
Magic is a fantastic thing, Mr. Kellner. The elves live here only if they want to, but most go back to their homes returning to help spread Christmas joy when called upon. As for their origins, the world is a much older place than people tend to realize. Older than I and sometimes you have to just put your faith in the fact there is more to anything than the surface of it.
Speaking of faith, what’s it like sharing a day with Jesus’s birthday? Do you ever worry that you’re overshadowing him?
(Smiling) I’m St. Nicholas. I want to think he and I have worked in harmony to bring hope and joy to those who need it most. After all, I am a saint. Remember, Christmas isn’t about the giving of gifts or getting drunk at an office party, but it is a season of hope, of faith in something greater than any one person. Christmas is a time for forgiveness and enlightenment. An otherworldly understanding that the world is a good place and the people that dwell on it are inherently good people who embrace kindness and lend an empathetic ear to those who need it most.
Kind of makes me embarrassed for what Christmas has become in modern society.
The world changes all the time. Sometimes subtlety. Sometimes drastically. Those changes are what makes humanity a unique and exceptional creature. Certainly, the material desires that come with Christmas have increased, but deep down, in all of us, is that desire to share in the awe that is the Christmas season. To embrace our friends and families and look to proclaim a righteous end to the year and usher in a virtuous new beginning come January. Gifts are gifts. Nothing more than objects. It is the thought behind your actions that define what Christmas cheer truly means.
You have a list, and you check it twice. Going to find out who’s naughty?
There are no naughty children in the world Mr. Kellner. Naughty adults, perhaps, but naughty children? No certainly not. You see, a child is considered naughty on a subjective scale as defined by their parents, guardians, or any person older than they in a position of authority over them. A child may be considered naughty for not eating their vegetables, or they may be thought naughty for stealing their sibling’s toys, but that does not make them naughty. Don’t get me wrong. There are certainly children that push the boundaries of what it means to be a good boy or girl. For those children, I tend to believe that the message of Christmas is a way to show them that the world around them can be good and that they can show how good they can be. I understand why parents use coal as a deterrent, and I’m not against it. But I’m not going to give child coal on the one night of the year they so desperately seek out love and affection.
The coal in the stocking for being a bad kid is just a rumor then?
(Sips cocoa and laughs) No, I’ve done that, but it doesn’t mean they don’t get a present. Nothing more than a little reminder that I’m watching. In truth, the first time I did it was by complete accident. I was trying to ascend a chimney in a cottage in Bavaria, oh probably 250 years ago now, and my boots slipped, and I hit my elbow on the mantle. I’m quite embarrassed by this next part. I decided to place some coal in the dad’s stocking out of spite.
But it wasn’t his? Did you feel like you had to make amends?
Nope. It was his son’s, Brandon. Poor kid was so upset by finding coal in his stocking thinking he had somehow deserved it. Brought me to tears seeing a child so upset. Believe you me though; he was loaded to bear with gifts the next year. It’s the only time I’ve ever left a note apologizing for the previous year. I doubt that note has survived the centuries, but I hope it brought relief to the young boy’s heart. It did give me the idea to do it as a friendly reminder going forward, but like I said every child deserves a gift.
I guess the biggest question is how exactly do you get to every house in a single night?
I’m sure you took notice of the pace with which the elves worked? Magic is a mysterious and wonderful part of our world Mr. Kellner. It’s the same deal with global travel but just on a more personal level. I climb down the chimney and once inside a home I have to move fast all the while being cautious not to wake the children. Children are particularly adept at picking up on magic. I suppose the job wouldn’t be much fun if there weren’t some sort of challenge.
What exactly is magic?
There is a science behind magic, but honestly, I don’t know much about it. I’m guessing it is akin to when you have to call the IT help desk at work. There are people on my team that can explain magic, but it won’t be me (laughing). I’d be making up words and coming off as a blathering idiot. What I do know is that the most crucial element behind the use of magic is the belief in magic. Full on, no doubts, belief. It took me years to master that and hone that into perfection. There was Christmas Eve’s I could see the sun rising in the east and I was pushing the reindeer particularly hard. Still got the job done though.
Am I assuming they fly with magic? Still the original crew from the songs, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen?
(Winking) Now you’re getting it, Mr. Kellner. The reindeer are no ordinary reindeer. These reindeer were born magical and possessed abilities that I can’t be to describe. Imagine lugging this bowl full of jelly (pats stomach) all around the world. It is absolutely the original crew. I’d wager they believe in the spirit of Christmas almost as much as I do. If reindeer can have a passion, delivering toys to children would be it. The team is a perfect mix of speed and strength. I believe in balance and harmony. I couldn’t imagine being this successful for this long without it.
How about a few easy ones before we wrap up?
Pun intended? (Laughing)
Pun intended. Favorite Christmas cookie?
Without a doubt sugar, but any cookies made with care will do. I don’t have any nut allergies so I can pretty much scarf down anything without going into anaphylactic shock on their living room floor. Helps to have milk too, but that’s where things get crazy. Have you ever had a warm glass of yak milk? It’s not that great. Bless them for leaving it out, but I have a rough time finishing the glass. Always do, but it’s not easy.
Favorite Christmas Story?
Hands down T’was the Night Before Christmas. That’s a timeless classic. Newer compared to some of the others. I also like the German traditional story Weihnacht-Abend. It’s fun to reread all of the different versions of Christmas stories from across the globe. Humanity is so imaginative. I just hope we don’t forget that.
Do you watch Christmas movies? I know you’ve been around the block, but I never pictured Santa Claus sitting around watching TV.
Everyone needs a little downtime Mr. Kellner. Considering films have only been around for a very short portion of my life I’ve had time to see most of them. My favorite is A Miracle On 34th Street. The scene where they bring in all of the letters to Santa brings a tear to my eye. Real powerful stuff. The worst movie I’ve seen is Christmas with the Cranks. Tim Allen hit it out of the park with the Santa Claus trilogy, but boy he limped out of the barn with that travesty (laughs).
Of course the letters! I nearly forgot. How do you deal with all that mail?
Some elves make toys, and there are elves that sort mail, sew clothes and make repairs. They do a great job taking the mail and sifting it so I can read and we can figure what boy or girl gets what toy. It’s arguably the second most important job the elves have. Without those letters, my job would be exponentially more challenging. Millions of children might miss out on the joy of Christmas if the elves weren’t around.
Last question. When did you meet Mrs. Claus?
Mrs. Claus and I met I’d say two hundred years ago beneath a harvest moon. I had taken a vacation to a small town in Ireland and met her in a pub. She carries herself with so much love, and her soul is as pure as a mountain spring. Took a while to explain who I was and get her to believe I wasn’t delusional. Once she did, we fell in love and never looked back.
With that, the interview ended and Santa took me back through the workshop, through the entrance and opened the door for me to walk out into the moonlit night.
“Mr. Kellner. Thank you so much for coming. It warms my heart to see such passion for Christmas in an adult. It’s a rare thing these days, but now you must depart for we have so much work to do.”
I scanned the horizon seeing no path home.
“How do I get home?” I asked.
Mrs. Claus appeared before me. “Close your eyes.”
I awoke on a bench inside Grand Central Station. It took me a moment to realize that I was back and shook my head wondering if I had been dreaming. Suddenly, I remembered that I recorded the interview. If it weren’t a dream then surely the interview would be on there.
Hitting play I listened close hoping and wishing.
“Mr. Kellner. I wanted to thank you again for showing me how special Christmas could be at any age, but I’m afraid I can’t allow you to expose me to the world (laughing). In three days you will have forgotten our little encounter. I’m sorry if that seems sordid, but remember it’s for the children.”
I paused the recorder and smirked — clever man.
Pressing play I listened for one last message.
“Oh and one more thing. It is rather naughty to record Santa without his permission. Merry Christmas!” Santa said laughing.
With that the message deleted. I frowned knowing that this would soon be forgotten.
Unless. I thought. I began to write down my interview frantically.