After arriving in Yelm from my home in New York in 1991, I decided to go for the adventure of outrageous experience rather than finding a job that paid me enough money to pay the bills. Yup, I took a job working for Santa Claus.
Even though I like snow, skiing and the utter stillness of winter, I wasn’t ready for the North Pole in December so, fortunately, I was assigned to Santa’s Pacific Northwest supply depot at Crystal Mountain, Washington. For minimum wage I was paid to inventory toy shipments and trouble-shoot miscellaneous problems, such as kids’ letters to Santa Claus that didn’t have sufficient postage or had the wrong zip code – yo, kids, North Pole, Alaska is 99705.
However, I loved my job, and the best part was meeting Santa, or “Uncle Nicky” as we called him. No, I didn’t work directly with any elves, but when Uncle Nicky came by on his weekly check-ups he was escorted by our regional supervisor, a cigar-smoking elf by the name of Jason St. Moritz.
Not surprisingly, I liked Santa, and I found him to be just about how all the Christmas stories portray him – he’s fat and jolly, and loves kids; and I also found him to be very gracious. He is also very organized in a non-regimented way, which I really appreciated as an employee.
Once, while we were waiting for faxes to come in from North Pole, I had a chance to ask Santa Claus some personal questions about Christmas.
“Uncle Nic…er, I mean, Santa. How do you keep this operation going year after year? After all, you’ve been doing this for over 600 hundred years.”
“You mean, why am I still alive and as fit-as-a-fiddle? Ho, ho, ho!”
“Yes, Santa, I think that’s what I’m asking.”
“Because I love life, and I don’t think about getting old – not for one second,” he said, releasing another of his trademark laughs.
Seeing the famous twinkle in his eye that accompanies his laughter, immortal life seemed really that simple.
“And Santa, the whole world in one night? How do you get it done?”
“It is a big job, Sonny, but you have to understand three things. First, I don’t go to everyone’s house, just those who believe in me and the magic of Christmas. That leaves out over half the families.
Secondly, I travel with the night, so I get twenty-four hours to do the job. In the old days that was enough, but now with the surge in population…heh, heh, heh, I need a little magic,” he chuckled, and then added sotto voce: “I slow down time.”
“I slow down time – enough for me to get the job done. Then, I speed it back up to reconnect with the regular flow of time in the universe. I usually get things back to normal in the twelve days, you know, January 6th. That’s why it takes so long for Christmas to get here, and why Christmas vacations go so fast. The kids are sensing that though, so I may need to come up with another plan.”
“Kids are pretty sharp these days, Santa,” I said, teasingly.
“Ho, ho, ho. You’re right, Sonny, but I’ve got plenty of magic up my sleeve,” he said, pushing back his shirt sleeve to reveal nothing that I could see but an arm well-laced with soft, white hair.
“Santa, what’s the strangest Christmas present request you ever got?”
“Hmmm. This may not be the strangest, but it’s the one that stands out in my mind.
“A few years ago, a boy about seven years old came to see me in a shopping mall. He was the last of his family to sit on my lap, and at first he gave me a list of all the usual stuff, like GI Joe’s, Legos and toy trucks, but then he paused. His parents thought he was finished so they began to walk away, taking their other children with them.
But when they moved out of ear shot, the boy snuggled closer to me and whispered, ‘What I really want Santa, is the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail.’
“He did it so quickly that you wouldn’t have seen it unless you were looking for it – and I figure he was rehearsing his moves for months!
“I was stunned – I’ll be honest with you. I wasn’t sure that I had heard the kid correctly, so I offered a logical interpretation of what I thought he had intended to say.
“‘You mean you’d like the video of Indiana Jones’ movie, ‘The Ark Of The Covenant?’”
“The kid looked aghast. He pulled away from me and slid off my knee. He looked utterly shaken like I had disappointed him in a very big way, and he moved toward his family.
“‘Wait,’ I said. I realized that this kid wanted the real thing, not some movie. I reached out my hand and placed it on his shoulder. ‘C’mere.’ I turned him around so his faced me. I wasn’t sure what to say to this boy, so I took a deep breath, and then it came to me.
“‘What you’re asking for is a very big gift. It may take years for me to get it to you, or for you to be ready to receive it. Will a hug from one who has seen the face of God do for this year, or until I can deliver such an important gift?’
“His face beamed and his eyes shone like crystals. He stepped forward, melted into my arms, and nuzzled his face into my beard. I held him firmly to my chest, and we breathed in rhythm for a few breaths. Then he pulled away as he sensed his family waiting for him, so he turned and left.”
Santa took a deep breath and said, “Quite a kid, eh?”
‘Yeah, Santa. Sure is.”
“Well, Sonny…I gotta go.” Santa got up, grabbed his faxes, and walked out to his sleigh.
But, in my next paycheck was a handwritten note: “You’re doing a great job, Sonny, and remember that what we do here is very important work, (signed) Uncle Nicky. PS: Great questions, too, Sonny. Mrs. Claus got a big laugh when I told her about the new guy down at Crystal Mountain busting my chops about Christmas Magic.”
I have that note framed on the wall across from my bed. Some nights I look at it, and feel that I am nestled in the bosom of God. It must be what that little boy felt when he hugged Santa.
I sleep deeply those nights, and when I awake in the morning I feel a vitality flowing through me like a liquid electrical current. That must be the kind of energy Uncle Nicky has, which has kept him going all these years.
© 1995 Bruce A. Smith