Back in 2017, I met with Santa’s doppelganger at the Burning Man event, which used to take place every September pre-COVID. He was giving out gifts from his large sack at the impromptu Jazz Cafe. We had a lovely chat but did not exchange contact details.
The next year I bumped into the same man again at Burning Man. We recognized each other and he gave me a new gift. Out of the blue, he then brought out a saxophone and went up to the stage to play Santa Claus is coming to town with the band.
This time I got his email address and waited several months until the night of Christmas Eve to write to him, telling Santa what Christmas meant to me, and how special his act of spreading joy was.
He responded as ‘Santa’ on Christmas day and this has been the start of a yearly tradition of letter exchanges. The next year, I surprised him, prancing into the Jazz Cafe along with 13 of my friends dressed as reindeers. We came bearing gifts, so that Santa would finally be the one receiving presents.
In the last two years we have not been able to meet during the pandemic, but the letter tradition has lived on.
Our letters have been filled with nostalgia for better days, and their themes have followed the changing times.
For instance, in 2020 Santa said he was working remotely—and his Christmas factory started producing hand sanitizer because the pandemic required him to wipe down the sleigh between house visits dropping off gifts. (They are quite responsible like that.)
While the elves did not receive Christmas bonuses Santa made sure there were no layoffs. While working from home, Santa was also on the Doughvid-19 diet and worried he may not fit through chimneys. Meanwhile I, as Rudolph (‘Ruddie’), lamented the lack of children stroking his fur and wondered whether the light of my nose would be hidden behind a mask while making deliveries.
Now that my nieces are old enough to write, they have joined in the letter tradition, expressing their own COVID-19 related concerns.
It is these forays into imaginary worlds that allow us to get through collective hardships, and these lighthearted connections and traditions are all the more meaningful in our socially isolated times.
Though I engage in a nomadic lifestyle, I generally am based in Barcelona, Spain, and am hoping to reunite with Santa in 2022. It has brought me much joy to have such a special pen pal over the years. Here are some highlights of our letter exchanges:
First letter in 2018:
“Dearest Santa, I love what Christmas represents, and meeting you on Burn Night reminded me that every moment is magic and the world is a better place when we are allowed to act like children again. And believe me I felt like a child in that moment when you reached into your big old sack and handed me one of your gifts! Sometimes it takes a jolly man in a Santa suit to remind you of that…”
“Dear Roxane, You are an excellent writer. Your letter certainly showed a more advanced level of cognition, perception, and erudition than the typical letters I get which are often written in crayon. I hope you received the response from my assistant while I was making deliveries, and forgive me for not replying to your kind letter sooner. It was the most hectic holiday season I can remember. Mrs. Claus and I were quite irresponsible and took a vacation to New Zealand the first two weeks of November. We spent the following 5 weeks playing catchup.
I am glad we met at Jazz camp, and twice no less. I don’t give such presents to just anybody, but you seemed to have some inner sparkle that inspired me. Throwing your inhibitions aside and exploring your inner child is a wonderful thing. I try to nurture my playful side, so helping others to do so is a joy. When I put on the suit it brings out the child in many people. For some, when I ask if they have been good or bad the last year, it precipitates a very intense self analysis of their lives…. Santa aka ‘Whitebeard’”
My letter from Christmas 2021 (I go by Rudolph, now, in our exchanges)
Still, in the midst of this hyper accelerated “new normality,” this reindeer has kept a soft spot for the rituals of the past. It is always good to take time to reflect on how far we’ve come over the last year. Even though it may crop up on us, each circle around the sun is a new line that we wear. Etched in us like the stumps of ancient furs trees in the forest. Although it started rather muted, this year has seen the world reopen. People have come together again, and we have tasted the seeds of hope anew. Yet in some ways it feels like the interim chapter in a trilogy. That in-between state when the world sways between old and new, trying to find its feet. But these moments in the story are always as full of adventures as they are of reckonings. Opportunities to shape what will be. Times to craft our hero journeys… Rudie”