Jeffersonville — Our holiday tradition begins right around this time every year with a visit from St. Nick. He will be arriving at our house tonight to fill stockings with new boxes of Crayons, Hot Wheels cars and flavored lip glosses.
My husband doesn’t understand St. Nick.
“But why do we have a visit from St. Nick and then again from Santa Claus?” he asks.
“Because I was raised Catholic,” is my only answer.
I don’t know the real history of St. Nick or why he tries to compete with Santa every year, always showing up weeks in advance of our Christmas holiday. (I was never that good of a Catholic anyway.) I do know that St. Nick brings my kids much better gifts than the oranges he left in my stocking when I was their age.
Our kids have no problem believing. What’s the point of questioning the validity of someone who brings shiny new Hot Wheels cars and Dr. Pepper-flavored lip gloss?
We are very fortunate to have such traditions. Small gifts for stockings. Bigger gifts for Dec. 25. And much food and good cheer in between now and then.
Not only does Santa leave gifts under our tree in return for a few homemade chocolate chip cookies; but, he makes an appearance at our extended family’s Christmas Caravan every year.
It’s quite an event.
First, the entire family travels from one house to the next for a three-course meal of appetizers, main entrées and desserts served progressive-dinner style. The last house, known on the Christmas Caravan trail as the “dessert stop,” hosts Santa’s visit.
The trick is getting to the dessert stop in time to achieve a quality sugar buzz just before Santa Claus arrives, ringing his bells and singing, “Ho, ho ho!” in his deep-barreled voice as he enters through the front door.
The only way to describe the scene once Santa makes it inside is pure, grade-school style mayhem. Ages 5 through 8 are chomping at the bit to be the first one on Santa’s lap. Some of the 3-and-under crowd resort to screaming in high anxiety and fear of the oddly dressed, bearded stranger who has caused the chaos.
Many of the older kids (including me) play it cool, but are secretly so excited this moment is here that they hover nearby so as not to be missed when Santa asks, “Is that everybody?”
Every child gets a turn to sit on Santa’s lap and confess how good they’ve been all year. Some kids sit in line, patiently waiting their turn. Others have to be coerced by their parents who want one last picture of their child on Santa’s lap before the college years begin. And then there are the little ones who cling to their mom and dad’s necks in pure panic that Santa won’t give them back should they take a seat on his knee.
All the while, 20-plus camera flashes are going off with adults yelling, “Look up here!” and “Smile!” and “Turn toward the camera!”
From the outside, you’d think it was a red carpet event for a Kardashian wedding (or divorce).
The entire in-person visit from Santa lasts less than an hour, but the anticipation leading up to his visit and the follow up exhilaration afterward can last for days.
I remember when I was one of the children sitting at Santa’s feet, waiting my turn to tell him about the Cabbage Patch twin dolls I wanted so very badly. I was wearing peach-colored velvet pants with a matching vest that had flowers embroidered down the front. I thought I looked so grown-up in my velvet pantsuit.
Not too many years after getting my Cabbage Patch dolls, I stood in the back, watching Santa take requests. At 13, I was too embarrassed to sit on his lap, but did it anyway for the neon-paint-splattered sweatshirt and silver flats that I had been coveting all winter.
My collective memories of Santa with my family are some of my most cherished.
If there was a contest, Santa Claus most definitely would win. Sure, St. Nick gets points for showing up early; but, he doesn’t even come close to the lasting effect of the real Santa Claus making it to our Christmas Caravan every year.
Amy Gesenhues is a columnist for the Newws and Tribune in Jeffersonville, Ind. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.