This weekend, New York was invaded by thousands of Santas, elves, reindeer and at least one Sugar Plum Fairy courtesy of Santacon 2016. I had all but forgotten about the event, until I spotted the first crowd of revelers as I was walking to the bus from a shopping excursion. It was around 4:00 p.m., and the Kris Kringle wannabes were already inebriated, loud, rude and self-absorbed. I deftly skirted the rowdy Santas, who were openly drinking on the sidewalk in front of a bar, by crossing the street.
I dodged down side streets, determined to avoid as many Santas as I could. When I turned onto Second Avenue, I heard breaks screeching as a black SUV narrowly missed a group of five Santas who stood in the middle of the highly trafficked thoroughfare, smiling and swaying, drinks in hand, fully expecting everyone to look out for their safety, while oblivious to everyone elses’.
I hopped a bus and watched the Santas and their entourages in front of bar after bar from the window. I was reminded of an event that occurred several decades ago in another bus, well before anyone ever conceived of Santacon.
It was a cold December evening, and the bus was filled with weary passengers returning from their jobs or shopping. The door opened and a new passenger boarded.He was attired in a red sweatsuit and had a kind face, rosy cheeks, twinkling blue eyes, wavy snow white hair and a neat, natural beard that hung to his chest.
The passengers took a collective gasp and their eyes filled with wonder. The new passenger smiled and stood in the aisle. For a few moments, nobody said a word. Then, an elderly woman who was sitting near him said, “Excuse me sir, I wish my granddaughter were here. She would have loved to have seen you.” The red-clad passenger smiled more broadly, reached into his pocket with a flourish and handed her something small. Everyone stood halfway and craned to see what it was: a matchbox with a tiny Santa figurine inside. She said, “Thank you, sir,” and he smiled again as he headed toward the rear of the bus to exit, only a few stops from where he had gotten on. The passengers, jaded New Yorkers all, looked at each other as if to say, “Did we just see who we thought we saw?” Finally, someone broke the silence and whispered, “He looks just like Santa Claus.”
The red-suited man turned to the passengers and said, quietly and as a matter of fact, “I am Santa Claus,” smiled and departed.
When I compare this brief magical encounter to the annual assault of entitled Santacons, I am inclined to believe that he was.