By Bill Buchanan
There is no other time of the year that is as special as Christmas. And it seems that there are some people who embody everything that Christmas is supposed to be about — joy, laughter, excitement, unselfishness and good will. Over the years I have known several such people, but the one who will always stand out in my mind when it comes to Christmas is my Uncle John. In fact, it is impossible for me to think about Christmas without thinking about him.
Part of the reason for this is that my uncle always played Santa Claus. And I have never seen anyone more perfect for the part. He was a large man with rosy cheeks, a hearty laugh, and a mischievous twinkle in his eye. But there was much more than just his physical appearance that made him personify Christmas. It was what was inside the man, not what was inside the suit.
Uncle John never had children of his own, so all children came to be his. I can remember him sitting patiently for hours at a time without pay in a hot suit and beard (that he had paid for himself) while child after child would laugh, giggle and share with him what they wanted Santa to bring them for Christmas. No matter how long it took, no matter how many kids there were to see, he was always animated and jolly, as if doing this for the first time.
No matter where we went in our small town, we always saw the same Santa. Uncle John was Santa at local stores, he was Santa at our church, and he was Santa at the town’s annual Christmas parade. Uncle John also had a great trick for those kids who were on the verge of outgrowing their belief in Santa. Before putting the child in his lap, he would conspire with the parents to find out what the kid wanted for Christmas. When the skeptical child would challenge whether he was the real Santa Claus, my uncle would say, “Well if I am not Santa, then how do I know you want a Daisy BB gun for Christmas?” The look on the stunned child’s face was probably my uncle’s favorite Christmas present.
When my sister and I were very young, my uncle started a wonderful Christmas tradition — the Magic Tree. About two weeks before Christmas, my uncle came to our house to have coffee with my parents. He casually mentioned that he thought one of the trees in our front yard had magical powers. When we questioned him, he said that he thought he had noticed something wedged in one of the branches of the tree, and that maybe we ought to go out and see what it was.
My sister and I raced out of the house to find some small toys — one for a girl and one for a boy. We were thrilled beyond words and raced back into the house to show our treasures. Each morning for the next two weeks or so, there was a gift in the Magic Tree. The gifts were small and inexpensive. Sometimes it was just a couple of pieces of fruit. But we thought it was wonderful, and no orange ever tasted as sweet as one that had come from the Magic Tree.
It soon became hard to sleep at night wondering what treasure would be in the tree the next morning. And each day when my mother woke us, my sister and I would race outside barefooted and in our pajamas (with my mother right behind us scolding us to put on some shoes) to see what the tree held for us.
I would not hazard a guess as to how many families my uncle brought joy to down through the many years before his death. But in a time when it is easy to become cynical about everything, including Christmas, it is a pleasure to recall the wonderful memories that we all have about this blessed season and what it means to us and our families.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus — and his spirit lives in the hearts of people like Uncle John. I wish Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and happy holidays to you all.