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Jim Griffith

Jim Griffith

As with any small town, Carlisle is the sort of place where one often encounters the same people on a regular basis. It happens all the time with my friend Larenda; we are always passing each other in the main crosswalks.

But what do you do when it’s someone truly legendary like Santa Claus?

Over the course of the 2018 holiday season, I’ve found myself involved, one way or another, with many of the events where Santa Claus has appeared. Being such a flashy dresser, he likes to change his wardrobe from time to time, but the same magical twinkle in his eye and love of all things Christmas is always to be found.

I first ran into Santa Claus on the evening of the Christmas Parade this year. He and Mrs. Claus had just arrived to Carlisle for the first time this season, and I was directing parade attendees at the new Carlisle Events starting area. The call came through the “walkie talkie” to make sure that Santa and Mrs. Claus were ready, and as I headed back to the sleigh, I found myself quickly following them through the throng of excited parade participants.

They were walking together at a brisk pace and yet somehow they managed to shake hands with or acknowledge everyone as they passed. Of course, Santa knew them all since they were children. The pair seemed invigorated by their passage through the participants. It dawned on me that the people taking part in the parade were already playing a major role by inspiring our North Pole visitors to usher in the holiday season.

As my wife, Karen, and I walked alongside their sleigh toward town, we were immediately taken by the pure enthusiasm on the faces of not only children along the route but also their parents. There was joy to be found in seeing such a generational exchange of cherished traditions and wonder.

The next day, the weather in Carlisle was frightful, but Santa Claus still made the rounds about town. I talked to Santa just before he appeared at Bosler Memorial Library and he told me why he was particularly excited to return to Carlisle this year. He said that a year ago, a little girl approached him and said that she wanted to ask for something—but in secret. She whispered a request for a “farm” in his ear; not a toy one, but a real one. She wanted to grow plants and take care of animals. Santa said that he couldn’t promise but would try, and she was completely happy with his response.

I then bumped into him while he journeyed from the Cumberland County Historical Society to the Carlisle Square. He was beaming and showed me a cookie that one little girl brought him. It was made out of construction paper with glittery snowflakes pasted all over it, and with the phrase “For Santa” written at the bottom. That snowflake would now grace the wooden dash of his sleigh as a reminder this coming Christmas Eve.

For my part, I was really excited to have had so many opportunities to talk with Santa this year. But at the same time, I was nervous! For we’d been involved over the course of the year, along with other volunteers and organizations, to ready the houses at the Square for Santa’s weekly appearances. Until that time I hadn’t really considered just how important those visits with Santa Claus would be for the children who attend. A cherished lifelong memory could result.

But my worries were unfounded.

The following weekend brought a beautiful but cold Saturday to the Square. A wonderful little girl, dressed in rainbow colors and with a jacket covered in cosmic themes, immediately leapt on Santa’s lap and gave him a hug. When asked what she’d like for Christmas, she said “Nothing. Just for everyone to be happy.”

Shortly after, a friendly young lad appeared seemingly out of nowhere by Santa’s chair. He shared his wishes and then happily skipped back to his mother’s waiting car. Santa shared that several adults also visited, wishing for photographs to commemorate the holiday for their loved ones. Santa was always happy to comply.

While the next Saturday was rainy and wet, the enthusiasm of visitors was unabated. A sad little terrier named Reiver paid a visit, and Santa said later that he immediately knew the pup had been naughty. But who can begrudge a sad little dog? Reiver will be on the “check twice” list next year, but rest assured that he will have a Happy Christmas.

Santa’s final Saturday afternoon visit to Carlisle happened just before Christmas this past weekend. He was visited by many wonderful families who were happy to have a last chance to talk with him, and to take photos before the big day arrived. One little boy was so overjoyed that he couldn’t even get the words out, hugging Santa on sight.

It was clear to us that the boy’s excitement embodied the spirit of the holiday. Some of the younger children were very nervous on seeing Santa but he always understood. Santa Claus was especially flattered by the young lady who made a point to wear her beautiful Santa dress, and he said that all of the children who visited were cherished and appreciated.

It’s been so encouraging to have had so many opportunities to chat with Santa this year. Also I was glad to witness the enthusiasm, nostalgia and care on the part of the many volunteers and supporters who made it possible for Santa to spend so much time in our humble little town. Merry Christmas!

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