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His eyes were definitely not twinkling.

“Would you mind sitting over there?” Santa indicated the tripod stool at the end of his extended fingertip. Five feet in front of us. “My knee is breaking...”

I took the hint and moved my 65-year-old body to the stool.

“Well,” he said as he rubbed his leg, trying to bring the circulation back, “what do you want for Christmas?”

Some giggles from three children next in line diverted my focus for an instant. Over by the teenage elf, two girls wearing reindeer antlers and a boy in a white shirt and two-button red vest were nervously awaiting their turn to see St. Nick. They were jumping around like popcorn kernels on a hot plate. After all, it was a steep, twenty step climb to the top of the “North Pole” to see Claus. And that followed 90 minutes of standing in line.

I leaned forward and stared directly into his eyes. “Are you the real Santa Claus?”

“Can’t you see the outfit?”

“But there are other Santas around town sportin’ the red suit with white trim thing. Are they Santa, too?”

“No, I’m the real Santa. Don’t know anything about those people.”

The little boy was now jumping up and down like a tethered kangaroo. Probably had to go to the bathroom. Ninety minutes...

“So how do you respond to those people who say you have replaced the real meaning of Christmas?”

“So they say that, do they? Well,” he stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Tell me, how does my coming to every child’s house in the world, bring a gift for every for every child in the world, diminish the true meaning of Christmas?” He blushed ever so slightly. “I’ve always hoped that I added to the season. It’s up to parents to make the connection.”

“Do reindeer fly?”

“Yes, at least mine do.”

“How do they do that?”

“Stay awake December 24th, you’ll see.”

“I go to bed at nine.”

“Sucks to be you.”

Santa glanced at the three kids who were now glaring directly at me, and gave them a quick smile and shrug.

“And the chimney thing?”

“You got your waist into those size 34 jeans, didn’t you? Same concept.” Santa motioned to the kids.

“Wait!” I walked over to block the kids from moving closer. “I haven’t told you what I want for Christmas.”

“At your pace, it’ll be New Years before you get around to it.” Santa leaned forward. “Alright, what is it that you want?”

I froze. Like icicles in my throat, my words were repelled by my fear of sounding foolish. But I was screaming inside. I have felt this way for so long. With a monumental heave of my souI, I yelled, “I want to believe in Santa Claus!”

The two girls covered their mouths and smothered giggles. The little boy laughed and pointed at me. The teen elf pulled out his phone, to record it all.

St. Nick leaned back in his chair. “Well, now. That depends upon you, doesn’t it.” He opened his arms to the three kids, who, as one, landed squarely on his lap. St. Nick never flinched.

The elf pointed to the twenty foot descending exit. “Do you want to take the stairs?” He said. “Or go down the roller slide?”

I looked at the stairs; then the slide. I turned back to see Santa Claus, watching me make my decision.

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Don Cunningham of Fremont is a freelance columnist.

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