Twenty-two years ago, I was a long way from home.
Lonely. Unsure. Afraid.
When that first Texas Christmas rolled around, my homesickness heightened.
Then I heard about this one really cool Santa. A smart Santa. A Santa with the doctorate in psychology. Dr. Santa. Santa Shrink.
You may have heard of him. He works every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve at the fabulous NorthPark Center mall in Dallas. His name is Carl Anderson. He's an Austin psychologist the rest of the year.
Anderson has played Santa at NorthPark for decades now. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on how children react when they learn the truth about Santa.
Back in 1993, on my first visit, I stood behind Jay Stiles, a father of three, who was first in line. He said, “He looks the kids in the eye and really listens to them and makes them believe.” Stiles' family had waited 90 minutes.
This Santa looked so real. His golden hair and bushy foot-long beard were not glued on like some store Santas. His big blue eyes sparkled like the sea.
I went to the end of the line, right behind the pony-tailed girl wearing a shirt that said, “Santa, I was a perfect angel.”
There were more than 100 kids ahead of me.
Finally, my turn came. Being a little bigger than the other kids, I pulled up a chair near Santa.
I told Santa about this being my first Texas Christmas and my disorientation. “And what's with the tamales?” I asked.
Santa laughed and asked me what I wanted.
“Make Texas feel like home,” I said.
Then Santa spoke: “You are in a unique position. You can create your own traditions. It probably won't fit to redo the old ones because you are in a different place.
“You might let your imagination just kind of wander. Even pay attention to your dreams and see what comes up in terms of ways you might enjoy celebrating the season.
“You also might want to take a look inside and ask yourself, `What's the meaning of the season all about? How do I want to express this in my life and come to some kind of more deeper personal understanding?' ”
“So a Texas Christmas can become the opening for a better Christmas for me?” I asked.
“Yes,” Santa replied. “Maybe a deeper, more fully understood, expressed and felt Christmas, perhaps. If you're willing to take that look at it and see what it means to you.”
As I stood to leave, Santa added a word of encouragement: “I'm not a Texan myself, but I feel at home here.”
I never forgot those words of advice. They helped me. Santa is wonderful.
And you know what? Twenty-two years later, I'm at home.
Last week, I heard from my favorite Santa. He wanted me to know about his blog.
He's in his 27th year at NorthPark.
His blog is about “tales of life,” he says. “The funny and touching things that happen when kids come to visit, and my own musings about it all.”
Please check out SantaSays.org.
He's the best Santa of all.
— vicburkhammer (@vicburkhammer) March 18, 2015
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