Saturday, December 18, 2010
Travels with Izzy - Part Two: Christmas Is Cancelled
So that’s Izzy’s childhood fantasy blown. There’s no way she’ll ever dream of sleighbells and reindeer now – she’ll be hiding under the covers every Christmas Eve praying that Santa is just a bad dream.
It’s all the fault of an absurdly smart shopping mall we visited in Newport Beach, an hour south of Los Angeles. They have the tallest Christmas tree in America, a 100 foot giant with over 17,000 ornaments and lights. Beneath it lies Santa’s Village: in fact, it’s just a little Swiss mountain hut, but I guess to a two-year-old it could be a village and it was Izzy’s first chance to meet Santa.
There was no queue at all, quite astonishing for a large mall a week before Christmas. The recession has hit America hard: department stores were advertising sales, restaurants were half empty and bored assistants were chatting to boyfriends on cellphones. We walked up to the mountain hut and peeped inside. There, sitting silently in a huge cream wing chair, was Santa.
I know a 58-year-old isn’t supposed to believe in this stuff, but I’ve never seen a less fake Father Christmas. He had real white whiskers and his eyes twinkled as he stared at us. He didn’t speak or move. He was absolutely, overwhelmingly terrifying.
There were three other people in the room: a bedraggled mother was trying to coax her tearful daughter to have her picture taken by Santa’s official photographer, who had flown down specially from the North Pole with offers of a full Rudolph digital package for $47.95 or maybe just a Prancer ($17.95 for a couple of prints). The kid was having none of it. Older than Izzy by at least a year, the more her mother reasoned with her, bribing with cookies and promises of gifts to come, the less keen she became. Eventually Mom pointed at us: “Look, that little girl isn’t scared – watch her go sit on Santie’s lap”. We had to save the day.
I confidently prised Izzy from her comfy pushchair, sprinkled with chocolate brownie crumbs, and carried her towards the monster. It looked at us and raised one bushy eyebrow. “Good luck, mate,” I said to him jovially, then paused. Aren’t parents supposed to address Santa with more respect? Maybe I should have given a little bow? This was all too casual.
He didn’t react at all, grey eyes piercing through white eyebrows. No “Ho-Ho-Ho, and what do you want for Christmas, little girl?” The beard bore no sign of join or adhesive, and the round face attached to it looked a thousand years old. He looked like a man who’d been glued to his seat since Thanksgiving, despite repeated calls to his agent that he should be back on some nice Hollywood film set.
“Izzy, this is Santa”, I said more slowly, “ and you’re going to see quite a lot of him in your life.” Then I asked, “Should I put her on your lap?”
I stopped myself. Oh God, perhaps they aren’t allowed to do that anymore. I didn’t want to get Santa arrested for indecency. Santa’s right hand, resting on his giant thigh, twitched a weary finger towards his knee.
As I handed her over, Izzy’s eyes opened in surprise. Then she turned and looked at me as if I was completely mad.
The mouth opened, the eyes welled up, and five seconds later a scream blew the doors off Santa’s Village shattering several baubles on the giant Christmas tree. If looks could speak, it would have been “You’re Kidding Me – Get Me Off This Man Right Now!”
“Oh my goodness”, said the photographer through the din. “Told you so”, wailed the three-year-old to her Mom. “Maybe next year”, I apologized to Santa. “Maybe not”, I thought I heard him mutter through the beard.
Happy Christmas, everyone.