I didn’t believe in Santa Claus until 2007 when, on a sunny December day in Florida, I met him. After having picked up some food from a Peruvian restaurant, and as I was leaving the parking lot, I saw him. Santa was there, in a random plaza on the corner of Gun Club and Military Trail in West Palm Beach, Florida.
As a child I didn’t grow up believing in Santa, and always thought that was a Peruvian thing. But later, I found out many of my Peruvian friends, and even some relatives, believed in him, so it must have been a household thing. It makes sense; because of my father’s job, I grew up listening and reading psychological clinical cases, and enjoying my mother’s unusual bedtime stories. I would ask her to invent her own because the traditional ones bored me.
Therefore, later I believed, without hesitation, in Gregor Samsa turning into a monstrous vermin after a night of strange dreams, or I believed in Colonel Aureliano Buendia starting 32 civil wars and losing all of them. Even the flying carpets of Aladdin in One Thousand and One Nights’ seemed more believable than the big man with the red suit bringing presents to the whole world in one night.
But, when I saw him on that bright December day he was just another man. He looked tired, and I figured it was because of all the traveling. His red suit, too thick for the Florida sun, danced around him as he seemed to have lost some weight from the pictures I had seen of him before. The second to last button on his jacket was not black like all of the others, but brown, and I imagined Mrs. Claus sewing that button last minute before he left the North Pole. As he walked to his old burgundy Ford Taurus (I guess he uses it for local transportation while the reindeer rest up for their next big trip), I noticed he seemed happy. Tired, but happy.
His beard was not the white one I was used to seeing in photos, but more of a three-day beard that resembled someone who is exhausted – rather than someone ready to jump down into a chimney. His shoes were old, so was his belt, so was his hat. I thought of going up to him, maybe trying to interview him, but understood he didn’t have time, since it was a few days before Christmas and who knows what he was doing in West Palm Beach. The poor guy had had to deal with millions of letters during the whole month, and probably the last thing he wanted was a non-believer asking him questions. He looked like a busy parent, and in a way, he might have been.
That is what I understood that December afternoon: He was the Santa I wanted to believe in. A hard-working man trying to get presents for all of the kids across the globe. A real man, as real as the kids who believe in him, and their dreams.
_Alonso Rodriguez Romero was born in Lima, Peru, but has lived in the U.S. since he was fifteen years old. He is a graduate from Florida Atlantic University with a Bachelors in English, with a concentration on Creative Writing. He can be contacted by email, email@example.com._How do you prefer to imagine Santa: a whimsical character with endless energy, or a humble individual just trying to do his best, similar to you and I?