Margot let go. “It’s show time, Santa Baby. Go get ’em, Tiger.”
Tim and Simi appeared to usher me to the makeshift “Santa throne” so that the children would not see me until I was sitting down and ready to take wish lists and give presents. We swiftly, silently, made our way to the big, overstuffed chair sitting on a raised platform to the back of the commons. I mounted the steps, laid down the big red bag I had carried down, and sat down in the chair.
I was suddenly ready to put on a show. “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!”
Every head turned to look at me. A cheer went up from those old enough to remember who I was portraying. Whispers filtered through the crowd as well. Simi stepped out from behind the chair, dressed in a homemade elf costume, complete with fake ears. Frank and Tim did the same.
Simi curtseyed. “Ladies and gentlemen, Santa sent his helper tonight to gather all your holiday wishes so that he can bring them to you in the night. He will be making a personal appearance tomorrow to share in the final festivities with us. Tonight, though, he is loading up his sleigh and rechecking his lists.” She turned sideways to open the way for the children. “So, children. If you will. Please make your way over and form a line. Santa’s helper will be happy to listen to your wishes and to tell you tales of Christmases past.”
The parents walked their children over to where I was. Each smiled as they recognized me beneath the disguise. But not one attempted to ruin the illusion. They knew what I was trying to do for the children. And they knew that I was doing it as much for them as I was for the children. It was for their morale.
I took my leave and went in search of Merv. I found that all I had to do was follow the “Ho, ho, ho” coming from the commissary. I stepped in to find the hilariously realistic sight of him as Santa, dancing as he prepped the feast for the next day. He turned to find me standing there trying not to laugh. I smiled at him. “Is Santa ready to go and make an appearance?”
He touched his nose and smiled. “Ho! Ho! Ho! Let’s go!”
Trying not to laugh, I led him from the commissary into the commons. “Hey kids! Look who decided to make a last minute appearance! It’s the real Santa!”
A cheer rose from the children, who flocked to him for hugs. Merv, a natural with the kids, was an amazing Santa. And none of the soldiers actually knew who he really was, which made it seem all the more real. To all, he was Santa. The big man himself. And his beard was real! As was his girth! And both made him a natural choice for Santa.
“Did you give my helper here your list of wishes?” He was playing the crowd well.
As if of one mind, the children answered him in unison. “Yes!”
He smiled at their exuberance. “How about your wishes for next year?”
Again, they answered of one accord. “Yes!”
He chuckled. “Ho! Ho! Ho! Then I should have a pretty good idea of what you all want for Christmas next year! Very good! And remember. You’ll want to begin sending me your letters again if you want to see me every year!” He winked at them. “Now. I must go back to my workshop and get my sleigh! I will return once you are all in bed and asleep. Now don’t try to stay up and see if I come back. I will know. and you won’t get any presents.”
Still of a single mind, they replied as a single voice. “Ok, Santa! We promise to go to bed and go right to sleep!”
He smiled, winked, then shuffled back to the commissary. He had put in the first of his two appearances. Tomorrow, he would make one more appearance as Santa. But, for tonight, he was done. He could go back to his comfy kitchen and sing and dance around his cooking tables. I smiled as I watched him go.
I went back to the chair I had taken wishes in and sat down. “Who wants to hear the first tales of Christmas?”
They all surrounded me and sat on the floor, waiting for me to begin. After they quieted down, I began. I started out with the stories on how it was given its name. then, I went into the stories about Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, Frosty The Snowman, Rudolph, and nearly every legend and children’s story about the holiday.
I, then, read other Christmas stories. I followed this up with a movie time where I showed a dozen or so Christmas movies. By the time it was all over, it was time for the children to go to bed. I made a mental note that the next Christmas would include a tree. It only seemed right. But we couldn’t risk it this time. Too risky. And the trees were all the wrong kind.
Still, I had begun a new tradition. I had also revived an old tradition or two. And I had done it all for the people. I smiled. I was finally feeling as if I had begun to accomplish something.
I stayed long enough to help Simi and the others clean up. During cleanup, Demoria came up and shook my hand. “Truly amazing. I was truly entertained by your little show for the children.”
I looked at her. “It was for everyone, young and old. It has been decades since they have had any holidays to celebrate. Many of the younger adults know nothing of the old traditions. Only the hell that has been. I am lucky enough to remember all the holidays. And the fanfare that used to accompany each one.”
She smiled. “So am I. We celebrate all the holidays as well. But this was the first time I have witnessed such revelry. And such uniqueness. Congratulations. I am impressed. You really do know how to boost morale.”