Meeting Santa

Sheila Burt

He came in a box from a department store, but we all knew he belonged on the couch next to people.

Santa–a 6-ounce, 20-inch giant stuffed toy–was a gift to my older brother, Colin, from my grandparents. Colin was three at the time, and my twin sister Brigid and I weren’t born yet, but Santa soon made an impression on myself and six other siblings.

Looking through old family photo albums, I found the picture of my brother’s first meeting with stuffed Santa. My grandfather, with a large smile on his face, holds Santa up on his knee while Colin looks at him with excitement. The picture immediately below that one shows Colin holding Santa, who was almost as big as Colin, in his arms.

While Santa easily could have become another trivial gift thrown away, he somehow has become one of my family’s defining Christmas decorations.

There are pictures of my brother wearing Santa’s red hat as he puts his arm around him; another show Santa sitting in a rocking chair while Colin and my other brother Kevin hold Santa’s arms up.

One year, Santa snuck behind my older brother Bobby, who was sleeping on the couch. He placed his hat on Bobby’s head. Santa stood there long enough so we could snap a picture.

All of these adventures, of course, took their toll on Santa. He now wears masking tape on his left foot and both of his arms to prevent his limbs from falling off. He’s a little dusty, and his white beard and full head of hair have turned to a shade of gray.

There’s also a giant safety pin sticking out from the side of his stomach. No one ever said being a beloved Christmas toy was easy.

“Oh, Santa, it looks like your belt is coming off,” my mom often will say lovingly as she picks him up and fixes him every year. “I think Santa needs surgery.”

After more than 20 Burt family Christmases, Santa spends most of his time sitting on the couch, but that hasn’t stopped him from having fun.

Just last year, he met my 3-year-old nephew Conor. Conor walked right up to him on Christmas Day and stared. Santa– with a little help from Colin– waved his arms at Conor, who giggled with excitement.

All of you probably own a ragged gift like Santa that you received for the holidays one year. This is the time of year to pick it up, dust if off and remember a time when this simple toy– not a hunt for an internship or a good grade– consumed your life.

My family hasn’t filled the house with our standard Christmas decorations of a tree and bells yet, but I went searching for Santa in our cold attic this past weekend.

Looking through piles of boxes in a dark corner, I lifted up a garbage bag and felt a stuffed arm. Sure enough, Santa was sitting in that bag, waiting for the Christmas season.

I pulled him out, gave him a hug and carried him downstairs so my family could see him.

“Look who I brought out a little early,” I said to my dad as I carried Santa on my shoulder.

“Ha,” my dad said. “He’s sure seen the days.”

Holiday Guide Editor Sheila Burt is a Medill junior. She can be reached at [email protected]