Her father played Santa every year. But their relationship was complicated.
Posted in , Dec 27, 2021
Online auctions were completely new to me, but Covid had made going to estate sales impossible. So I found myself flipping through an online version one evening, searching for my favorite collectibles: fun containers for my succulents, old maps, original artwork, Santas… “Oh my gosh, Cody! Look at this!”
My husband looked over my shoulder. “That’s a lot of Santas,” he said.
That was an understatement. I’d hit the mother lode and it was only March! But these Santas came in bulk. “I don’t know where we would store them all,” I said. “You’d have to go with me to pick them up—those bins look heavy.” I was trying to talk myself out of bidding, but it wasn’t working. “I really want to win this auction,” I admitted.
“You should do what makes you happy,” Cody said.
For years I’d bought at least one Santa figure for Christmas. Nobody questioned my collection. Only Cody knew that for me, Santa was a complicated, sometimes painful, character.
When I was growing up, my father played the community Santa. He was a volunteer fireman, and the department sponsored Santa visits at school. Entering my bid for the bins of Santas online, I thought back to the times my father hopped down from the flashing fire truck and strode into the gym with a big “ho ho ho!” He’d sit each child on his lap one by one. “What’s your Christmas wish this year?” he’d ask, jolly as could be. He handed out bags of peanuts, hard candy, oranges. Even the older kids looked forward to his visits. Nobody knew the man behind the beard was my father. It was magical.
Too bad the magic lasted only one day of the year, I thought. I typed in my bid on the auction site as memories of the aftermath of those school parties rushed in. Mom would carefully wash Dad’s costume. The red and white outfit, hat, fluffy white beard and black belt went back into the box. Santa was gone and my real father returned: the abusive, mean man who hated me for not being the child he wanted. For not being a boy. He never missed a chance to say something degrading to me, even on Christmas.
He died one day in March when I was 19. Cody proposed to me at Christmas three years later. By the time our three daughters were born, we had enough Santas to decorate a whole tree. I’d bought my first figurine to reclaim the joy Santa represented, to make peace with the fact that I had only one happy memory of my father from my childhood. But one Santa figure couldn’t undo 19 years of trauma. Maybe that’s why I kept searching for more of them. Every March, I asked God’s guidance, struggling to grieve for a man I didn’t like 364 days a year. The auction I’d bid on probably contained almost as many Santas.
My computer blinked with a message. I’d won! I was now the proud owner of three big plastic bins of Santa figurines. As promised, Cody went with me to pick them up and helped me store them in the garage. I didn’t have time to go through them right away. Our daughters’ schools were closed because of the pandemic. It took all my attention to keep them engaged in online learning while keeping up with my own work.
The bins sat in our garage for a couple weeks, until a particularly frustrating day of working at home made me decide the girls and I needed a break. “Let’s go out and see the Santas!” I announced.
“Santas? In March?” my youngest daughter, Hadley, asked.
“We need some joy,” I told her.
I led the girls into the garage, where we dug into the bins. Tall ones, skinny ones, wooden, resin, glass—we lined them up on a table. A veritable army of Saint Nicks. We chose favorites along the way. “I love this one,” Hadley announced, posing beside a Santa that was nearly as tall as she was. Brynn chose the Irish Santa dressed in shamrock green. Morgan claimed a delicate, antique-looking glass ornament. Whatever complicated feelings I had about Santa, I was comforted to know that my daughters could love Saint Nick with their whole hearts.
“I’ll get the last one!” Brynn called. She reached deep into the bin and pulled out a bundle of bubble wrap. “Oh, this one’s heavy!” she said. I helped her get it out. We all watched with excitement as she unwrapped it. “Look! This Santa’s a fireman!”
A jolly old elf on a shiny red fire truck. This one’s just for me, I thought. Whatever pain my father had caused me, the magic I felt when he played Santa was mine to cherish. I held my new figurine in my hands and felt uncompromised joy for all that is good. Isn’t that what Christmas brings? In our garage, in March, Christmas had truly come for me.
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