Forget the North Pole. Santa lives in Blue Ridge. I see him all the time.
When I lived in New York, I was convinced I was in the Santa capitol of the world. This time of year, a Santa stood ringing a bell in front of a metal Salvation Army collection pot on every street corner. I’d throw in a few quarters as I passed by thinking, “Are you the one?” Sometimes these Santa’s had dark skin, bushy eyebrows, the wrong colored eyes, or they were too short or too tall. They might be women, young yuppie types, elderly, or so lacking “jolly-ness” that I wasn’t fooled a bit.
In Blue Ridge, Santa doesn’t wear a red suit and he certainly doesn’t ring a bell to bring attention to himself. He goes about his days like everyone else with a twinkle in his eye and his bushy white beard ungroomed. Often, he wears overalls and work boots. Just the other day, I saw Santa at the hardware store. He was loading his truck with two by fours. As I passed, he nodded and winked. I gasped!
I saw two Santas at the Waffle House last week. Perhaps it was Santa and his brother. Their round stomachs filled the booth leaving little room for the plate of biscuits and gravy they were downing. White hair and beards covered the collars of their flannel plaid shirts and one wore a John Deer baseball cap. They were talking about how the endless rain is making a mess at their barns. Must be tough on the reindeer, I thought.
If you go to Copperhill, there’s a store called Christmas is Here and Santa is inside working the register. On a slow day, he works on his hand-carved wooden bowls in the corner of the shop. You can often see him whittling away at a chunk of wood, proving the elves need help once in a while. He doesn’t wear a Santa suit on an average day any more than an army recruit would go around in full dress uniform, but he’s always in a red shirt. Santa is a subtle guy on an average day.
We have our traditional Santa wanna-bes too. Good Samaritans decked out in red velvet pass out gifts at the bank or make an appearance at fundraisers. A traditional Santa rides the train to the Light up Blue Ridge ceremony and sits in the decorated gazebo in the park to take pictures with the kids. Mrs. Claus hands out peppermint sticks by his side. It’s a lovely holiday tradition, but this year I noticed the real Santa in the crowd, a bit of chew in his cheek and mud on the hem of his work-worn jeans. He was lifting a grandchild over his head to give her a better view of the impostor. Santa has no ego when it comes to having fun. He didn’t ho, ho, ho, but he had a hearty laugh and the way he hugged that child and gave her a tickle to make her squeal gleefully was the epitome of Christmas love to me.
Forget the corny, commercialism that is such a part of Christmas in areas of the country where commerce drives the soul and everyone is too frazzled to pause for a cup of homemade eggnog. If you want to live in a place where Christmas lives in the heart and even Santa understands you don’t have to put on airs, come to Blue Ridge. Christmas is as wholesome and natural here as the holly growing in the woods outside your cabin door, as the deer that dart from the fur trees as you surprise them on a walk, and as real as rubbing elbows with Santa at the coffee shop.