Driving Mr. Santa

Vicki here, reporting from my town of Camden, where this weekend we celebrate our holiday festival, Christmas By The Sea.

Last night hundreds of parka-clad people turned out to watch a parade of brightly lit floats illuminating Main Street, followed by a fireworks display over the harbor. The local bank served hot chocolate and hosted choral groups; the streets were full of decorated shops, strolling shoppers, and throngs of teens. Although I haven’t been to the Macy’s parade since I was small, I pulled the Midcoast Habitat for Humanity float (the frame of a small house, ablaze with lights, and our newest partner family, waving in front of it) and I swear, I could have been cruising 34th Street in Manhattan.

The holiday activities continue today, with one of the highlights being Santa’s arrival by lobsterboat at the harbor. For many years my own children were among the candy cane-clutching crowds; now I sometimes wander down just to watch. You see, Santa and I share a special bond: for several years I was his driver on this all important day.

The whole thing was perfectly orchestrated. First I’d meet Santa and his elf, Ellen, in the lobby of the downtown Lord Camden Inn, then transport him in my jaunty red Rav 4 (nearly as nice as his sleigh) to Rockport harbor, where they appeared before throngs of children gathered by Rockport Marine. After Santa listened to the little tykes’ Christmas wishes, and Ellen handed out about a hundred candy canes, I bundled them back into my car and took the jolly couple to lunch at a local hamburger stand, Scott’s Place. (Santa, it turns out, likes large fries and Dr. Pepper!) We then piled back into my Toyota and buzzed over to Wayfarer Marine, where he and his elf boarded a festively decorated lobster boat for their trek to the Public Landing in Camden, and more throngs of excited kids.

What’s it like driving the biggest Christmas celeb since Jesus?

At the time, I wrote in my blog, “Behind those twinkly eyes and snow white beard is a consummate Christmas professional. Even with a To Do list as long as your arm, Santa stays calm, focused, and pleasant. No matter where we were, he waved to all and gave good wishes. Not once did he snap at his elf or brush a whining kid aside. Despite temperatures in the 20’s and a wind whipping off the Atlantic, Old St. Nick radiated nothing but warmth.”

In a word, it was magical.

To see the faces of kids as they first spotted Santa — especially when he was glimpsed accidentally, say, coming out of the hotel, or sipping his soda in my front seat — was enchanting. A look of awe and wonder, followed by a huge grin (or in some cases, a more tentative smile) lit their little countenances. No matter what he was doing, the guy stuck with the script. Santa never, ever, showed me his un-Santa side.

Which leads me to a confession. I found myself believing that I was actually chauffering Old St. Nick. Not a man dressed up as him, but the real deal. So much so that when he came up to me last night before the start of the parade (he and Ellen the elf are on the last float,) I threw my arms around him and gave him a big hug. His reply naturally included the famous HO HO HO.

The whole experience is not that different than what happens to us when we read, right? We take little squiggles on a page and let them create a world for us. It’s fiction, but it feels so real, so much so that we experience emotions, include characters in our dreams, or imagine ourselves as part of the story. We willingly suspend our disbelief.

Richard Dean Anderson, the actor who played television’s “MacGyver” for seven successful seasons, put it this way: “You have to suspend disbelief a little bit to buy into your situation and to the story and to how the character will react. You have to tweak your credibility a little bit, is basically what it comes down to.”
This Christmas, I hope you’ll tweak your credibility and let yourself be swept into the magic.
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