Yesterday, on Christmas Day, I flew from my home in Reno, NV, to Minneapolis, MN, to start a new traveling physician job at a rehabilitation hospital in Wisconsin. It was lovely to be in the airport on Christmas Day. There weren’t a lot of people, though there were more children than I had ever seen before in an airport, coming or going from their relatives’ homes in distant places. People were dressed in holiday attire, red and green sweaters with festive designs splashed on the front, necklaces made of large colorful Christmas bulbs like the ones strewn on trees or outside fences, sparkly headbands bouncing with stars and even a few chocolate brown reindeer horns. I walked pass the Cinnabon store, inhaling the addictive aromas of butter, cinnamon, and sugar. I know something about cinnamon rolls, as I had just taken my husband to a local cooking store in Reno—called Nothing To It, as a way to make us all believe that cooking or baking was easy—for a holiday class on making cinnamon rolls. For most of my life I had made my mother’s homemade cinnamon rolls at this time of year, dripping with brown sugar sweetened sauce and toasted walnuts. They are delicious of course, though what makes them meaningful is all the memories I have of Christmases with my family, as if they the memories are baked into the dough of the rolls. Now that I have my own little family, far away from my parents and siblings, it was time to make our own cinnamon rolls. They did not disappoint, and the anticipation of how they would taste in our mouths intensified as the hours progressed in the making. We initially thought we would have to freeze half of the twelve rolls we got to take home, but alas, they were all gone in two days. Sorry mom, but your rolls have been replaced, though the memories of us eating them together on Christmas mornings will always be there.
But I digress from the point of this post. Santa Claus. I saw the would-be Santa walking towards the gate. We were in the Salt Lake City airport, waiting to board a plane to Minneapolis. He looked just like Santa, although in a more casual outfit with blue jeans. He had the black boots with the square gold buckle however, as well as a red sweater and red jacket, and most importantly, the long white beard. He wasn’t as plump as Santa should be, but who knows, maybe he had been on a diet that year, avoiding cinnamon rolls and fresh baked bread in the North Pole. I was astonished how he looked like a real Santa Claus, and I glanced around at all the kids, sleepily waiting in seats at the gates, walking or being pulled in a stroller by their parents, wondering when they would notice Santa was in our midst. I was expecting at least one or two of them to see him, pull on their parent’s sweater, point to Santa in excitement, or even just hop up out of the chair and run over to Santa with delight. But this did not happen, and I was surprised that no one seemed to notice, wondering if this made Santa sad. It was apparent he was trying to look like, to be, Santa. I pushed these thoughts aside as I lined up to board the plane.
As luck would have it, Santa was seated in the row behind me. His legs stretched out in the space on my left, as I was in the extra roomy exit row, and there was a missing seat next to the emergency exit door. His long legs were happy for the extra room, and it gave me a good look at his polished shoes and his hem turned up blue jeans, which to my surprise, was lined with a thick red cloth, I imagine keeping his legs warms in the sleigh. I could see Mrs. Claus in my mind busily sewing this red liner into his jeans, concerned her husband wouldn’t be warm enough for his trip.
The plane was quiet as we waited to back up from the gate and head to the tarmac. It was still early in the morning and many folks were trying to go back to sleep. From this silence there came a cheery whistle, and I looked over at the passenger across the aisle. He too noticed the whistle and looked around, his eyes first landing on me. Me? Nope. I cannot whistle. I never learned how to whistle, though I wonder, is this something that a child just learns how to do, or does it have to be taught, like tying one’s shoes? So, no, the secret whistler wasn’t me. Quickly we discovered it was coming from behind my seat. It was a playful tune, quick and light, though not a Christmas song, and sounded like a performer warming up their flute for a holiday concert. The entire plane was stone quiet, except for the sound of Santa’s whistle. I had the distinct sense that he was whistling to himself and was not aware that we all were receiving his song.
Soon after take-off, Santa’s whistle disappeared and we all settled into whatever would occupy our time on the two and a half hour flight. We landed into a cloudy, rainy Minneapolis and as I stood up to exit the plane, Santa was right behind me. I smiled at him and asked him if he was disappointed that no children approached him in the airport. He smiled back and said yes, he was somewhat, and that he had been ready for them, tapping on a homemade red velvet bag at his hip, full of some unknown secret gifts. He pulled out his cell phone and showed me a portrait of him all dressed up in his formal Santa Suit, no more jeans or casual red sweater, with four little smiling girls dressed in frilly dresses on his lap, against a bedecked background with a Christmas tree, poinsettias, and large candy canes. He told me every year he worked as Santa, spreading magic to little children in Salt Lake City. He’s the real deal! I knew it!
My little girl self immediately wanted to sit on Santa’s lap, get a treat from his bag, and tell him what I wanted for Christmas. After all it was Christmas, and there was still time left in the day. What would I ask for? What did I want? I really don’t want or need anything for myself. I have a blessed life, my physical needs met, with lots of extra love dolloped on top by my dear friends and family. No, I would not ask for myself, though what I do want seems ridiculous to ask. I want World Peace, or at least, a planet without war, without the killing of innocent women, children, and men, in the name of religion or fighting for land or resources, or for revenge. So, Santa, can you make that happen? Likely not, though he was doing his small part, playing Santa every year to spread joy to little girls and boys, to give them the hope that it is possible to live in a world where you at least get what you need and maybe, just maybe, you also get what you want. Thank you whistling Santa. Thank you.