Fireworks at Christmas

snowbird

The snow drizzled down in wet dollops, and I wondered if it was fake, being shot out of a machine from a hilltop nearby. But it kept falling, heavier, collecting around my feet and settling on the trees. By morning, there would be a few feet of powdery, wet snow.

I stood facing the mountain, bundled up in a heavy coat, a snow cap pulled down over my ears. I clutched A, my 6-year old, close, to keep him both warm and safe. Next to me stood my boyfriend, Mike, his hands in his pockets. At his side was my nine-year old, J. We huddled together in front of a campfire, one built in a circular tin. There were hundreds of people on the platform, all in coats, scarves, and hats, many with young children. Some wore festive gear, like light-up Rudolph noses, Santa beards, or elf hats, and many clutched plastic cups of white wine or champagne in their gloved hands.

The night wasn’t going exactly as I’d hoped. When I booked the expensive room at Snowbird resort, I’d been planning a romantic getaway for Mike and I, one with wine, a nice suite, a hot tub, and a fancy dinner. It was Christmas Eve, after all. But the ex-wife had crossed wires a wrong way, so suddenly, there we were, my sons with us on our evening out. Santa had already visited that morning, on Christmas Eve, a regular occurrence for my sons who have two Christmases in two homes. Thus, with a mantra of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, playing in my head, I just packed the kids up to the resort with us.

When the fireworks started, a teenage girl nearby began jumping up and down in obnoxious excitement, putting on a show for her friends. “Oh my god, you guys, the fireworks are starting, yay!” Her jostling knocked me backward a bit, and I had a mental vision of knocking my son into the tin can fire. I spoke up loudly.

“Hey, please don’t jump! There’s a fire here!”, and the girl looked as if I’d punched her in the face.

“I–I wasn’t trying to–I wouldn’t have–”

“You’re fine. I’m not mad. Just please don’t jump around. There’s a lot of people here, and little kids.”

“I would never hurt a kid!” she said, defensively.

Her friend, a burly teenage boy, put a hand on her shoulder, turning her toward him. “Hey, come on, it’s not worth it. It’s Christmas.” They turned away, acting as if I had just started a fight, and I could do nothing but role my eyes, and console my son, who always grew worried when there were angry tones.

The fireworks flashed in the sky. I bent down to whisper to my son, “I bet you’ve never seen fireworks in the snow!” before realizing he was plugging his ears to avoid the sounds. I looked at the other son, whose face was bright red as he shivered.

Soon, a string of red lights began appearing at the top of the mountain, slowing winding into a long line as the fireworks blasted overhead. Skiers had headed to the mountain top and were headed down the mountain in a procession, holding red electric torches, forming a gorgeous, bold, crimson line that arced into a short zigzag toward us. The snow continued falling, and then Santa’s sleigh, bedecked in green and red lights, began flying down toward us, a modified version of the ski lift. I excitedly pointed up to the kids, showing them that if they squinted they could see his red suit and waving arm, but they were too cold to enjoy it.

The show lasted ten minutes. Santa landed and handed out candy canes. The skiers put out their torches. And the fireworks finished with a beautiful booming resonance, leaving evanescent plumes hanging in the dark, snowy air. Both kids were begging to go inside.

Thirty minutes later, the four of us squished in around a wooden table in a fancy restaurant. Old timey Christmas songs played on the loudspeaker. The kids drew Pokemon on the backs of the menus with broken crayons, soon ordering macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets, at $18 per tiny plate. Mike and I ordered delicious red wine. He got crab and steak while I ordered the only vegetarian option on the menu, some savory mushroom concoction that left me hungry. Dinner took nearly two hours, and the kids, though well-behaved, began to almost pass out in their seats.

Coats and hats back on, we trudged up the hill back to our hotel. We’d been downgraded from the fancy suite to a standard room because of the kids. We slipped and sloshed up the hill, which was covered in inches of snow, and the kids began crying with exhaustion and cold, but in no time we made it. We collapsed into the bed of our substandard rooms, and I contemplated the dual reality that I was thrilled to have my sons with me, anytime and always, yet how very different this Christmas Eve night without them might have been.

The next morning, as we waited for the plow to come and pave a way out of the parking lot for us, I contemplated the hotel’s terrible coffee and how badly I needed a nap. One kid had a small anxiety attack about never getting out of the snow while the other consoled him. I held my boyfriend’s hand, remembering fireworks, red torch lights, wet snow, tin campfires, and jumping drunk girls, then compared it to the previous Christmas, when I had slept and awakened alone.

As we drove down the mountain, taking turns choosing Christmas carols to sing, I thought how maybe this wasn’t such a bad Christmas after all.

Mall Santa

SantaThere were only eight people in the line to see Santa Claus. A few “Dad, pleeeeeze” entreaties from my sons is all it took for me to agree. We could take some time to visit the Mall Santa.

The mall was bustling with people, and despite a few complaints about tired legs, the kids had done a great job weaving in and out of the people with us. The boyfriend and I had popped into a few stores to search for gifts, and the kids had avoided touching tempting displays, keeping hands firmly grasped in mine. I’m always protective of my children in crowds of people, silently terrified at the idea of being separated from them.

The other families in the Santa line struggled to keep their children entertained during  the wait. Some kids were dressed up for pictures, little boys in Christmas sweaters, babies in dresses and headbands. Some squirmed, some itched, some ran around in circles, some looked slightly comatose, like their sugar highs had just worn off. There were signs everywhere advertising the price of photos with Santa Claus, which could be sold as singles or packages, in various sizes, in print or electronic. They also reminded patrons that personal cell phones or cameras were not allowed.

The decor was gaudy. Christmas trees, pictures of elves and reindeer, and a candy cane fence around the perimeter. I pictured all of the decor being boxed up at the end of the season, placed in a musty storage room until the following year, where it would be assembled for another season of Santa in the mall. Things felt a lot less magical now that I was a grown-up. But I appreciated the sense of festivity put into the decorations. After all, mall Santas have been a Christmas staple for American families since the 1950s. The world had changed, but mall Santas somehow still reminded us of the roots of our parents in post-WWII America.

The line moved startlingly slow as the “elves” (bored looking workers ranging in height from 5’6” to 6’2”, dressed in red and green and impatient for their next cigarette breaks) tried upselling pictures to the person at the front of the line. It took nearly an hour for the few people in front of us to make it through, but we finally reached the front gate. An elf with a goatee opened the candy cane passage and bid us welcome.

“Would you like to purchase a family photo with Santa Claus?” He didn’t look at me as he asked.

“No thank you. The kids just to visit Santa.”

“Okay, there are no cell phone photos allowed.”

“Yeah, we read the sign.”

Finally past the sentinels, we rushed forward to Santa, who had been sitting quietly for several minutes while the elves negotiated price packages. He sat up in his chair, eager to be involved with children and it was apparent right away that he loved this part of his job. He was a delightful old man, just moderately heavy, in his red and white suit, with a real white beard on his lean face.

“Ho-ho-ho! Who do we have here?”

Both of my sons extended their hands, shaking Santa’s, and gave him their names and ages.

“I’m J, I’m nine.”

“Hi, Santa, I’m A. I’m 6.”

Santa gathered both boys on his lap, one on each knee, and laughed his trademark trio of Ho’s once more. “What handsome boys! And what do you want for Christmas?”

A launched in, ready with his answer. “I want a toy Yveltal!”

Santa’s eyebrows went up, and he looked over at me, a tiny bit helpless. “Oh! An–an Evil-tell?”

“No, Santa, and Yveltal!”

I smiled down at him. “Santa, I know it can be tough to keep up with all of the Pokemon nowadays. There are hundreds! Yveltal is a legendary Pokemon, an red and black flying Pokemon with feathers and claws? Remember Yveltal?”

“Ee-vell-tall! Of course! Ho-ho-ho! I can bring you one of if you are on the nice list!”

A brimmed with pride and excitement. “I am on the nice list!”

Santa turned to my nine year old, smiling. “And what would you like, young man? I can tell you are a great big brother!”

J smiled, a little nervous. “Hi, Santa. In school lately, we have been studying snowy owls. I would like to get a toy snowy owl for Christmas. And maybe some educational books?”

“Ho-ho-ho! I can tell you are a very smart boy. I will bring you those things but I would like you to make me a promise.”

J looked up, curious. “What promise?”

“I want you to promise to invent something wonderful that will make the world a better place, maybe by the time you are 20 years old. Can you do that?”

“Yes, Santa, I can,” he said with full confidence and without hesitation.

Moments later, I was walking way from the mall Santa, passed the bored elves, with my sons’ hands clasped tightly in mine. A was muttering to himself (“Yes! An Yveltal!”) while J was deep in thought. I looked down at I’m, curious.

“Hey, buddy, what are you thinking so hard about?”

“Well, Santa wants me to invent something to make the world better.”

“Yeah, I heard.”

“And Santa loves Christmas.”

“Yeah?”

“So maybe I should make something to make Christmas better?”

“I think that is a great idea! What are you thinking of inventing?”

J bit his lip while we walked. “I should make something amazing. I think–hey, I know!” He looked up at me, beaming. “I could invent a candy cane machine!”

As we walked out of the mall and into the polluted Salt Lake City winter air, there was still a lack of snow, and my skin itched with all he Christmas commercialism we had just wandered through, but my sons’ hands in mine reminded me what the season was all about.

“Thanks, Santa,” I whispered.