Modern Miracles on 34th Street
For one month each year, I get to work with Santa. The real. The one and only. Santa Claus. You see, I’m a seasonal employee at Macy’s Santaland in Herald Square in New York City. And at Santaland, we are not focused on making money during this highly profitable financial quarter. (Note the fall Christmas ads, Black Friday sales cutting into Thanksgiving, and year-round Christmas layaway plans.) In fact, on my first day of orientation, a manager told me: “We are not here to make money. We are here to make memories.”
All I want for Christmas
After watching hundreds, probably thousands of visits with Santa Claus, I’ve realized there’s a pattern in what people want for Christmas as they grow up. The young kids, about 6 years old and younger, would like trucks, dolls, and simple toys. As children grow older, they ask for technology: iPads, cell phones, the new Wii system, and the Nintendo 3DS XL. People in their twenties ask for love. Some ask for a boyfriend; some ask for an engagement ring; some ask for a family. After the age of 35, adults want nothing more than world peace and good health. Sure, many joke about wanting a new car, but they do not come to see Santa to ask for gifts. They come to see Santa because they believe.
They believe in the magic of Christmas. They believe that miracles can happen. They believe that wishes come true. This is the real beauty of Santa Claus. Macy’s slogan during the holiday season is “Believe.” They do not specify, “Believe in Santa,” “Believe in God,” or anything like that. Simply believe.
The most touching visit with Santa I’ve witnessed happened last Christmas season. A couple from Austria came to see the big man in red. They spoke broken English, but they were very talkative. They told me that they make the trek every year to see Santa because for them, he is a miracle worker. They told me that for years and years they tried every fertility treatment in the book. All they wanted was children, and they could not have any. Then, one holiday season, they came to New York City and asked Santa Claus for kids. Within the next month, they were pregnant with twins. Now, the couple returns to Santa each year to thank him.
I realized that day that Santa, for many people, can take on the human role of God. After all, he is omnipresent; “He sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake.” He decides whether you’ve been naughty or nice, and he loves all of the little boys and girls in the world. People tell him their hardships, and they ask him for their heart’s deepest desires. And some adults talk to Santa as if they are praying. “I’ve had a difficult year this year, Santa,” they’ll say. “But I’ve been good. I’ve worked hard and I’ve been good to others. Just give me a better year next year.” I cannot count how many times I have heard statements like this.
Perhaps one of the most liberating things about my job is that I can say “Merry Christmas,” not Happy Holidays. I assume that everyone walking into Santaland celebrates Christmas. I have been mistaken on numerous occasions, however. Parents will say, “We actually celebrate Hanukkah, but we love Santa!” Santa is no longer just for Christians. He spans all religions, all ages, all races. Santa is a universal figure for love, hope, peace and joy.
Four weekends out of the year, I witness Christmas magic at work. It restores my faith in humanity on a daily basis. So, to all of those holiday shoppers who are stressed about getting to the stores, to all of the skeptics that believe that Christmas has become a holiday about material goods, remember what Santa Claus stands for. Remember what it means to believe. Remember the true spirit of Christmas.