Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Spirit of Christmas

A Christmas music box that I found for E, a reminder
of one I had when I was her age.
Each year as Christmas approaches, I think back on what it was like in the 1950's when I was young and anticipating the arrival of S. Claus. Sometimes it is a more pronounced time of pondering depending on what is going on in my life, and other years it is like a jet flying overhead - brief.

I remember only too well hearing from my older brother who was in a bitter state of mind that there is no such thing as Santa Claus. He was pretty proud that he had that information and could take away my joy. Only he never did. (and by the way I have forgiven him...) I still believe in S. Claus, in the possibilities that the Old Man can bring into reality, and for several years when I was living in Boise, Idaho, I absolutely knew Who He Was.

About 1974 or 1975 I was introduced to a really old man with a beard by Phyllis Atwater during one of our Psychic Fairs in Boise.  He went under the name of Arthur Yensen and he lived in Parma, about 30 minutes from Boise. (Art said when we went to visit him at his home in Parma that it was "the summer cottage for Santa.") He was the Karcher Mall Santa Claus for years and years and even wrote a small paperback book about being the 'real' Santa Claus. He refused to give out candy to the children, so the mall had to hire assistants to do it. He once told me, "Candy is not really good for them, and as the real Santa Claus, I cannot advocate it." Yensen was a high school biology teacher and started being a Santa Claus almost by accident. "But I realized," he said, "that the role of this individual in the lives of children cannot be minimized and decided after my first day on the job that I would do it for as long as I could." He took his position very seriously and commented that he never drank because "how would it look in the newspapers for my mall children to read that Santa had been arrested for being drunk and disorderly?"

From 1969, when he was in his early 70's, until 1990, he was on duty in his special red chair from Thanksgiving until the weekend before Christmas. Both my daughters sat on his knee and asked for their dreams to be fulfilled. Neither of them pulled on his real beard, but Art said plenty of other kids did, wondering if he was the 'real deal.' He was... in so many ways, the embodiment of the S. Claus I carry in my heart. If you read about his life on the link, you will see what I mean. To add in a little economic humor about Santa, read this as to the work and earnings of this North Pole entrepreneur.
Last year there was a Santa brave enough to ask the adults
to come and sit on (or at) his knee to share our dreams.
So for those of you who were given the 'truth' about Santa Claus someplace along the way, perhaps you want to revise your belief system and like Peter Pan's Tinkerbell be reminded to keep the dream alive. Yes, there is a Christmas and it is ostensibly about the birth of a baby in a manger, but it is also the time in the Northern Hemisphere when the axis of the earth brings certain astronomical events into focus and who is to say if it is science or history or myth or mystery? Care to share your special Christmas story here? Hope your Christmas is a merry one.


  1. dear sandy,

    my mother was a most wonderful embodiment of christmas and santa claus. she loved santa when she was a girl growing up on a farm during the depression. even with 9 children, all the food essentials were at hand, from the garden and the livestock. when aunts and uncles came, the kids slept in closets, my mom under the piano, sure she would be the one to see santa arrive. the children hung their stockings and were encouraged to scamper quickly - off to sleep! - so santa could come!

    when my mother was a mom (of 8 children), she lived a far different life. my dad worked 2 jobs, going to college at night and saving to buy his own business. money was scarce, we had few toys. but us 3 first girls loved dolls. one christmas we were overjoyed to awaken and find 3 baby dolls, all with a layette of tiny diapers, kimonos with little draw strings at the bottoms, a bonnet, and an bib. they were laying, each in a wooden crib, with a small pillow, a matress, and a blanket. the cribs were painted, each in a soft pastel, and the bedding was made of flannel to match. we were simply ecstatic that santa knew our heart's desires! many years later, i realized that, of course, mom had made all the doll clothes by hand. she didn't have a sewing maching until much later. my dad built the cribs and painted them -working on them for short intervals after coming home from a two job day. mom was always alone in the evenings, and we were quite a handful to corrall to bed each night. she could easily have been on her last nerve, but in the weeks leading up to christmas, she took the time to lay in bed with us, tell us stories of her girlhood, and giggling and excited for all our anticipation. she must have been so tired each night. but once she knew we were asleep, she worked on sewing for our baby dolls. she could not afford new fabric, so repurposed from other sewing projects, things we'd grown out of, all by hand without any patterns. later she would tell us she took such delight in creating all those tiny things, washing and ironing each by hand. they were things she'd wished she had to play with when she was little, but being the middle of nine kids, she was lucky if she got a stocking with an orange and a candy cane, and maybe a ball or a book for her gifts.

    i was the oldest, and at age 11, i tearfully told her a boy in my class said in a very mean way that there was no santa claus. i didn't believe him, exactly...and she told me that was absolutely the right thing, to just keep believing. that year, she fixed it so i could have my bed near a window in my room - so i could keep watch in the sky and maybe see santa in his sleigh, reindeer and all. and that's how i fell asleep on christmas eve for several years to come.

    eventually, i knew...and was so hearbroken. but my mom made sure i became santa right along with her. we did many projects together, making presents for my younger brothers and sisters, and sharing secrets while she treated me to cups of hot coaco - just she and me.

    the best message that has stayed so warmly in my heart is one of sacrifice - the lengths we go to making others happy, because we love them, and the joy we receive when the gift is given from time and effort spent to make dreams and wishes come true. another is one of tenderness and empathy, and how we can oh, so gently and lovingly help others who suddenly find themselves bereft from a loss - a loss of what we believed that created such happiness and wonder. i was lucky that i had both of those messages imprinted by my mother, lasting and delightful and meaningful, when i was a young girl in transition who was not only encouraged to believe in santa claus, but could BE santa claus forever. i love those wonderful memories, and i adore my beautiful mother. such gifts to cherish, and to pass on to our grandchildren

    have a joyous and contented christmas, sandy.

    love, and HO, HO, HO to all,

    karen, TC

    1. It is all about love... and sacrifice is love. I enjoyed reading about your story, Karen.... Thanks so much! Sandy

  2. I know this an old post, but I just had to comment. Both my mom and I sat on the Real Santa's knee. I shared the picture I had with him in a local Treasure Valley history Facebook page. Triggered so many good memories with so many people in this area. I think Art touched all of our hearts.

    1. Love that you posted on this site about Art... I really do feel as if he embodies Santa for me and at this time of year, it is delightful to hear of others who were lucky enough to know him.