My sisters and I went to see the Richmond Santa every year. My mom may possibly have the world’s largest collection of consecutive Santa pictures. There wouldn’t be a surface long enough to display them in one place. Each picture is a chapter from our childhood, a snapshot marking the arrival of new babies, the years of glasses and braces, and the gradual transition into adulthood. There is a certain magic that surrounds the Richmond Santa. My mom discovered this magic the year my older sister was born and a tradition was born. At first we were jubilant to go see Santa. We stood in line for hours all dressed up going over what we would tell Santa and probably even getting in a fight or two. We’d be almost to the beginning of the line when Santa would need a break. It was excruciating waiting for him to come back, but before you knew it the sound of sleigh bells drifted into the room followed by gasps of excitement as Santa’s boots appeared at the top of the fireplace. His black boots would wiggle and wiggle as he made his way down the chimney until he landed with a solid thud. Squatting down and reaching out with his white gloves he would exclaim, “Hello my BABIES! Has everyone been good this year? Now, I have to ask, has anyone been…..bad this year?” When it was our turn, up we walked to the glamorous Snow Queen; “Santa would be seeing us in just a moment.” Then, Santa would call us over “Jane, Sarah, Emily, come on over.” Magic. In the early days, we would go have tea with Santa. Each luncheon ended with a slice of reindeer cake which we were assured was mixed by the reindeers’ own hooves. Or we would go see Bruce the Spruce, that strange singing evergreen. But time passed, and the little girls who were excited to see Santa changed into adolescents who were embarrassed. But we didn’t have a choice so we went, often grumpily — of course we didn’t want to have tea with Santa or see Bruce the Spruce that stuff was for babies. We were teenagers and my oldest sister, Jane, was in college when my mom told us that it was okay if we didn’t want to go see Santa. Not wanting to break our mother’s heart, Emily and I continued to go. Eventually, we waited a little more patiently and were over the being embarrassed part of it. We saw long lines become short, tea with Santa eliminated, and Bruce the Spruce downgraded to the food court at the dumpy mall around the corner. When Santa eventually moved to a new location and the lines lengthened once again we were there, too. We even made Ryan come along for a couple of years. We filled his poor head with how awesome this Santa was, like no other. And he was. But all good things must come to an end and the Christmas of 2004 was our last visit to Santa. Jane had long since flown the nest, I was newly married, and Emily was in college. I had been to see Santa for 23 years.
Last Christmas I was especially excited that the following year the tradition would be reinstated as Abigail would surely be sitting on Santa’s lap, my Santa, the Legendary Richmond Santa. (Google it, they really do call him that.) I couldnt wait to have my own collection of photos grow as we went year after year. My mom and I even talked about how we could make it work – going after Thanksgiving if Ryan and I wouldn’t be back for Christmas.
Well, I think you know what got in the way of that plan. About 3,000 miles and very expensive holiday plane fares. We would be spending our first Christmas away in Newport, a Coastal Christmas, we liked to joke. Saturday night was our official Coastal Christmas extravaganza. We took Abigail down to the bayfront, bundled up and wrapped in a quilt. We walked past the marina and the crab traps to the nearest dock to get a view of the lighted boat parade. We shivered as the icy wind whipped around us watching and waving as each boat passed by. When the parade was finished we headed over to the aquarium. It was $2 and 2 canned food items to get in and the line wrapped around to the parking lot because of the reduced rates. As we waited, we looked at the lights decorating the plants leading up to the building. We even kept up to date with the Virginia Tech vs. Florida State game. We reached the doors and headed inside waiting for our friends, Kurt and Susie, to catch up. We checked out the Anacondas and the jellyfish before Ryan and I made our way to the Santa line. I tried not to get my hopes up as we walked telling myself that this Santa might not be as great as the one I had known all my life. But then, I saw him, sitting not in an ornate chair, but a green sleigh and he was wonderful. Eventually, when it was our turn and I handed Abigail over to him, I knew that the magic of Santa wasn’t only in Richmond, but it was here in Newport, too. Traditions it seems, cross the miles, not just the decades.
I hope one day Abigail will get to see my Santa. But for now, I will proudly start her Santa display where it should be. Right next to mine.