It was an annual winter tradition. Every year we packed the children into our family car and spent the day at “The North Pole at Pike’s Peak,” a year-round Christmas resort not far away. And each year they took turns on Santa’s lap while we snapped pictures.
This wasn’t any ordinary Santa, either. Maybe it was the real beard. Or maybe it was the twinkle in his eye when he talked to the kids. He came as close to the genuine Santa as anyone I can imagine. The kindly old man worked as Santa Claus at the resort all year round and, for our family at least, he was just about the real thing.
One year, after we finished with pictures, I said to him, “You must really love children.”
“Yes, I do,” he said. “And adults, too. Many adults want to sit with Santa for a picture!”
“Do you really have adults visit Santa?” I asked in amazement.
“Oh, yes,” he replied. “As a matter of fact, one day 14 of the first 20 people who came to visit Santa were adults. All of us have a child inside of us. It’s a terrible thing when you lose that.”
I think I know what he meant. Children are enthusiastic. They’ve not forgotten how to have fun. And they still feel awe and wonder and excitement.
“It’s a terrible thing when you lose that,” he said. I don’t think he meant that we are to be childish and immature - just childlike. There is a difference.
To be childlike is to be fun-loving and ready to get lost in the present. To be childlike is to be more innocent and trusting. Quicker to embrace life and love. To be childlike is to not yet be jaded by the world or too cynical about people. Those who are childlike laugh easily and often. They know there is plenty about this universe they may not understand, and that is okay. In fact, mystery is good. It fills them with awe.
My children eventually grew up and quit visiting Santa. A few years later I learned that he passed away. As it turns out, even an almost-real Santa doesn’t live forever. I had the honor of speaking at his funeral service and remembered him that day as a man who always kept his childlike sense of enthusiasm, love and joy. He was one of the youngest people I knew.
I only hope I’m that young when I’m that old.