My children’s father, Daniel used to dress up as Santa Claus every year and I would take their portraits. It was a tradition that we began looking forward to. He would even saw our Christmas tree down dressed in the red fleece and white fur suit he adorned each year. The elastic on his fake beard always showed and he made for a skinny Santa, but our children appreciated it. Unfortunately, last December, while amidst our separation, my husband Daniel passed away from a genetic heart syndrome. It was a devastating time for our family, but we have also witnessed little miracles in our lives ever since his passing. Even with him gone, we continue to feel his presence.
This year, we have been blessed in many ways, including getting married to my new husband, who is an excellent stepfather to our children. This Christmas season is difficult for us, as memories from last year and the deep loss we experienced are impossible to escape, but I still wanted to continue a tradition of the same Santa suit being worn for my children. It was not only important to me to create a positive and memorable Christmas for our children, but I could also feel that it was important to Daniel.
My new mother-in-law lives on the most beautiful Christmas tree farm near Sandpoint, Idaho with a spectacular view of Schweitzer Mountain. We’d had plans for her husband to dress as Santa this December since summer. I was ecstatic to be photographing him on the tree farm with the kids in Daniel’s Santa suit. The farm is private with no one going in and out, so this was like a photographer’s dream. Then yesterday was finally the big day. On our way there though due to some heart-breaking circumstances, we learned that he was no longer able to be our Santa. I was so bummed and disappointed and telling my kids was even more tough. The kids were all dressed for Santa in the backseat of the car and looking forward to it, but we tried staying positive regardless and figured we could at least cut down our tree today and take pictures on the tree farm. We decided to make the best of it.
Well as we were driving onto the property, a man on a four-wheeler drove by on a gravel road and smiled, a long white beard blowing in the wind and an old black dog sitting in his lap. I was stunned. My husband and I looked at each other wide-eyed and he said, “Well there goes Santa!” Because it’s a small town of loggers and farmers, my husband asked his mom if she by any chance knew who this man was and sure enough, she did! She took a short drive over to his home and asked him if he’d like to make some kids happy by being our Santa. He actually said yes! We finished taking some quick shots at the tree farm, then drove up to his home, an 8 x 12-foot shack, smoke billowing out the small chimney, one side surrounded by Christmas trees and woods and the other acres of cut field with a view of Schweitzer and a snowy dormant volcano. We loved the rugged blue hoodie and worn burgundy vest he was already wearing, so he left that on, but he happily slid on Daniel’s pants and hat that my mother-in-law handed him. We drove just past his house along a path into the woods and searched for the perfect Christmas tree, when he came strolling up the path, with the most contagious, feel-good smile I think I’ve ever seen. His blue eyes twinkled and he laughed and waved at our children, then he sat on a stump while his dog did laps around him. My boys took turns sitting on his lap and then my two-year-old daughter took a seat and fed him her cookie. It may seem strange to some that we’d allow our toddler to sit on a stranger’s lap and to share bites of her cookie with him, but there was an ease about him and a warmth that reminded me of what it was once like to believe as a child. He was real and rugged and kind without all of the unnecessary frills that the real Santa wouldn’t have had anyway. It was the Christmas magic of fairy tales, of forest gnomes and elves, but best of all… Santa Claus.
As we drove away, I couldn’t help but feel even as a grown adult that we might have just met the real Santa. I ran it over and over in my head and my husband and I chuckled in disbelief and asked, “What are the odds?” Was it Daniel that placed him in our path at just the right time, still watching out for his children? Was it God? Or was it the magic of Santa Claus? Regardless, I was once again reminded that sometimes when something doesn’t work out just the way that we planned, it’s because something even better is going to happen.
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