The thing that most attracts me to celluloid stories is that for the run of a feature presentation I am totally removed from reality with nothing to do but enjoy. Consequently, I have occasionally tried to replicate moments of movie magic in my life. Ideals of perfect romance and love, family ties and bonding, spotless homes and décor—if it was good enough for Hollywood, it was good enough for this Irish lass.
Unfortunately, what played out as Julia Roberts’ “Pretty Woman” on screen often translated into Dustin Hoffman’s “Tootsie” in my world. Perfect make up, designer wardrobes, lavish sets, well-written scripts and unlimited bankrolls sure make life in the movies a lot easier than reality. Yet never one to ignore a challenge, this Christmas I once again attempted one of my “only in a movie” moments.
Traditionally on Christmas Eve an assortment of family and friends gather at my home to celebrate the season of good cheer, glad tidings and sheer exhaustion. This year my guest list included an unusually large number of children. So it seemed the perfect time for Santa to make an appearance in a magical Christmas Eve production for one and all. I began by searching for my lead actor.
My rolodex included a Santa from Christmas past. I was confident that this bearded actor would fulfill my movie requirements to perfection. Unfortunately, Santa was booked. Only if I could start my festivities in the early afternoon could he squeeze me in—then at a cost higher than most of the presents beneath the tree. My vision of Ho-Ho-Ho-ing in the glow of Christmas tree lights was dimming.
Despairing, I turned to the only casting agent I knew I could truly count on—The Penny Saver.
The sole “Santa for hire” ad I found was a rudimentary, two-line classified with a name and phone number. No jolly old elf, no reindeer and magic sleigh—just the basics. I called. Santa had voice mail.
Obviously, not the Kris Kringle of my casting dreams.
Undaunted, I left a message. I also began to run a mental checklist of my friends who were round enough, jolly enough and indebted enough that they might take on the role of my holiday St. Nick. Two out of three was the best I could do. My hopes for a Christmas Eve movie extravaganza were sinking.
With renewed determination, I turned my focus to the musical score of my production. No Christmas Eve movie magic is ever complete
without young and old caroling around the piano. I called a musician friend who provided a list of possible pianists. Things were looking up.
Five calls later, I realized that with the money required to hire a piano player I could amass a sizeable CD collection of holiday favorites. I was beginning to have serious doubts about this whole, “It’s A Wonderful Life” undertaking. Was it really that important to make such a fuss? Would my family and friends really enjoy playing a part in my Christmas movie fantasy? Of course, you know the answer. I took the plunge, bargained with the piano player and decided I’d figure out how to pay him later. Now all that remained was finding my lead character Santa.
The Penny Saver’s classified Claus finally returned my call and offered a resume that included roles as K-Mart’s Santa and guest appearances at various home celebrations. I was torn.
This man was crucial to my entire Christmas Eve presentation. It he was a weak performer my holiday production would be a bust. Yet short on time, I had little choice. I agreed to hire him and then did the unthinkable. I asked Santa for references.
It was a bold move, I know, but I had to have some assurance that Kris Kringle could fulfill his destiny. Happily he complied. I called the first reference. Again, voice mail. I left a message explaining my quest to hire Santa, along with my phone number.
It wasn’t long before my phone rang with a return call from Santa’s referral. The woman assured me that Santa was academy award caliber. She also informed me that her children had heard my message. They were now aware that Santa was for hire and their Christmas was ruined.
The term, “Scrooge” rang loud and clear in my head.
I could only hope that Santa would be able to make things right for those children when he magically appeared at their home on Christmas. I was also beginning to hope that he could bring a little magic my way as well.
Christmas Eve finally arrived, complete with a touch of snow for special effect. As if on cue, my cast members entered our movie set beautifully costumed for their roles. At just the right moment the piano player arrived. My movie magic was unfolding as scripted. I introduced the musician to all gathered in the living room. He took his seat and began to play beautifully, passionately—loudly. So loudly that everyone had to shout to be heard.
My son pulled me out to the kitchen. “Mom, you’ve got to do something. The music is unbearable.” My solution? I began tossing the dinner salad with wild abandon. If I could get food on the table and move everyone to the dining room, the music volume would be perfect. My only concern was that if Santa were running early, he would end up entering my Christmas production in the middle of dinner—Ho-Ho-Ho.
As my cast migrated to the dining room, the soft glow of candles lit my holiday buffet. The sparkling Christmas tree provided the perfect backdrop and the softened piano music made the setting complete. My movie was back on track. Looking around the table as we gave thanks, my nerves began to calm. Perhaps all was not lost.
The sound of Santa approaching was unmistakable. Once again my movie was out of synch, like words tumbling out of an actor’s mouth before their lips begin to move. I was the director of a production totally out of my control and my Christmas Eve was turning into a disaster.
Then somehow in the next few moments a new director took control of my movie. A sense of magic swept through the house as Santa entered with his sack of presents and jolly good cheer. The look of wonder on the faces of the children inspired the hearts of the adults. We all became suspended in a moment of time where age was irrelevant and Santa Claus was real.
One by one we were called to sit on the jolly old elf’s lap to receive our gifts. Then when his sack was emptied, Santa asked everyone to sit by the fire in the living room and sing carols. The children gathered round as the adults filled the room. The pianist began playing, at just the right level, songs familiar to all.
Voices filled the house, tears touched our cheeks and in those moments it was truly Christmas—just like in the movies.
This story is from a collection of Christina’s essays published in her book, “Heart & Soul, The Best Years of My Op-Ed Life”.
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