Happy Thursday, Christmas fanatics! Welcome to the fifteenth official installment of “Another Christmas Story“!
This week, Kendall Farrae of the extremely fun “For Forks Sake” podcast will read to all of you Chapter Fourteen of our tale, entitled “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”. Within this chapter, we switch back to the perspectives of Elizabeth Meyer and Noah Clarke as they brave Times Square to interview a Salvation Army Santa Claus for their school’s streaming service.
We hope you like it! If you do, make sure to share this episode and our website, upon which the text of this installment is posted, to get it in front of as many eyes as possible! Make sure to check your podcast feeds for your regular weekly episode on Monday, in which the elves cover the Disney, straight to VHS, 1997 midquel, “Beauty and the Beach: The Enchanted Christmas”, and next Thursday for the fifteenth official chapter of this story – “Chapter Fifteen: O Christmas Tree”, which Michelle Kidwell of the hilarious “Horribly Genius” podcast will be reading to you! In it, we switch back to the points of view of the President of the United States as she continues to entertain her foreign visitors!
Chapter Fourteen: Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
December 24th – 9:30 a.m. EST
“Times Square. The beating heart of New York City. The crossroads of the world where the lights shine so bright, the glow can be seen from outer space, a fact that allows a next to zero-percent chance that Elsa’s falling snow will be able to obscure its dazzling radiance.”
Noah watched through his camera’s viewfinder as Elizabeth waved an arm behind her to indicate that the bright lights of the world’s most popular tourist trap did indeed manage to cut through the heavily falling snow, although just barely; though he guessed that all of the extra Christmas lights that had been strung up along the outside of the towering buildings, and within their ornate window displays, helped. Between the snow, the lights, the smell of roasting chestnuts drifting over to where they stood from the carts of street vendors working on city corners, the snippets of carols that could be heard every time a shop door opened, and the crowds of people bustling around them doing last-minute shopping, anyone would be hard-pressed to not immediately be put into the Christmas spirit. It was even enough to lift Noah’s mood – or it would have been if he hadn’t been freezing out in the elements since six-in-the-morning; indeed, since he and Elizabeth had set out from their school, the weather had deteriorated pretty quickly.
“A little bit of snow has never deterred the people of Manhattan, however – neither the residents, its workers, nor the millions who flock in on a daily basis from all over the globe,” Elizabeth continued, walking backward with an amazing amount of grace considering how icy the ground was. “As you can see, the usual cast of characters are out in full-uniform to sucker unsuspecting parents out of money under the guise of posing for pictures with their children, who are a desperate to meet Elmo, Hello Kitty, Captain America, et. al., regardless of how cheap their costumes are.” Noah zoomed-in past his girlfriend to the line of costumed characters in question, cordoned off into a small square of red-tape on the ground that had been laid down by the N.Y.P.D. He guided his camera along the line until he rested on the famously undressed gentleman at the very end, as Elizabeth added, “And one look at the Naked Cowboy will offer you physical proof that New Yorkers are as resilient as the best of them, as the cold doesn’t seem to be affecting this particular Midwestern musician at all.” She stressed these last two words in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge type of way that forced her boyfriend to stifle a laugh as he directed the camera back toward her. “But there is one specific yuletide visitor present in the city today who is living up to his selfless nature by raising money for those in need!”
Elizabeth froze with a smile on her face, Noah’s cue to turn the camera off. Once the red light blinked out, the college girl visibly deflated and worked her jaw back and forth, massaging her cheeks, which were red-raw from the freezing cold. “Do you know how hard it is to talk through a wide smile the entire time you’re recording?”
“Not getting tired already, are you?” Noah asked with a raised eyebrow. Though it wasn’t yet ten a.m., the two had been nonstop since leaving the school three-and-a-half-hours earlier. While the original plan had been to come directly to Times Square, Elizabeth changed course on their way there, deciding it would be better to get as many establishing shots of the city lit-up for Christmas as they possibly could while it was still dark outside. She had subsequently led her boyfriend on a journey that spanned a large chunk of the island, all to shoot a few seconds of footage of multiple buildings including, but not limited to, the Carter building decked out in its large, red bow, the Plaza hotel with its strings of lighted garland along its façade, and the holiday light shows that Saks Fifth Avenue and Grand Central Station each put on. “It’s still so early!” Noah continued. “We’re not going to be able to stay out all day at this rate!”
Sensing the man’s barely concealed sarcasm, Elizabeth snapped brightly, “Bite me. I’ll be fine, buddy. And keep the mockery to a minimum if you don’t want me to renege on our deal.”
“But you love my mockery,” Noah replied, pretending to be hurt by her words. “It’s part of what makes me so charming!”
Elizabeth couldn’t help but allow a genuine smile to unfold across her face in response to the words, even as she rolled her eyes; he could see right through her, just as she always could him – it was part of what made them work so well together. Still, she refused to verbally admit it. “How was I?”
“Brilliant, as always,” Noah confirmed.
“Time to find our Santa then.” Elizabeth stared around the crowded square through squinted eyes, which darted from Salvation Army Santa to Salvation Army Santa.
“At least we have our pick of which one we want to interview.”
“I want one that looks genuine,” Elizabeth said. “Like he could be the real Santa Claus. I don’t want some guy with a clearly fake beard or a patchy real one who’s skinner than I am, or one in a costume that looks cheaper than the ones that mall Santas usually wear.” As she spoke, she pointed in different directions at the Salvation Army employees she had been referring to.
Noah glanced around to help his girlfriend search silently for the perfect St. Nick, a job made all the more difficult by the blowing snow, but he finally spotted a man he thought she would find adequate enough standing beside a halal cart on a nearby corner, just outside of an enormous Express store. “How about that one?”
Elizabeth whipped around to peer in the direction her boyfriend indicated, just across Seventh Avenue. Sure enough, there was a Salvation Army Santa Claus standing there, ringing his bell and collecting money for his little red bucket, an enormously warm and inviting smile on his face visible even from a distance. Though she couldn’t be entirely sure, he looked good enough from where she stood at that moment. “Good call,” she complimented Noah. “Let’s go see if he’ll talk to us.”
Holding hands, the couple bounded across Seventh, swerving between cars that were at a near standstill due to the heavy traffic, and hurried over to the Santa in question, just in time to hear him let out a deep, “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!” in response to a business executive dropping loose change into his bucket as he passed. “Excuse me, Santa?” Elizabeth called loudly to get the man’s attention as they approached him. “Would you mind if I…”
Her voice caught in her throat and her eyes widened as she came to a stop beside the man. She thought from a distance that this man could pass off as the “real” Santa Claus, but that was nothing compared to how much he actually looked like Santa up close. His warm smile was even wider than it had appeared from a distance, and it reached his kind, twinkling, blue eyes that were visible through half-moon spectacles. His stature cut an imposing figure, for not only was he tall with a perfectly round belly, but his arms and shoulders also looked quite strong – as though he actually lugged heavy sacks of toys down chimneys every year. And the outfit – the outfit he wore was one of the most authentic-looking costumes that Elizabeth had ever seen. It included worn, heavy-looking black boots, and pants, coat, and a hat that were perfect shades of burgundy and included fluffy, pristine, snow-white trim that matched the shade of his real, full beard and the hair that was visible on his head.
His appearance and demeanor had not only taken Elizabeth by surprise, but Noah as well. Santa stared at them kindly with an expectant smile as the two college students gaped at him, waiting for the girl to finish her question, but when it became clear that she needed some help, he finally prompted, “Would I mind if you…?”
Elizabeth snapped back to her senses and shook her head in a desperate attempt to clear it. “I’m sorry.” She laughed, embarrassed with herself. “I’m Elizabeth Meyer, and this is my boyfriend Noah Clarke. We’re journalism students at N.Y.U. and we’re covering the Christmas Eve beat for the university’s streaming service. I’d love to talk to you briefly about why you do what you do, and was wondering if you’d mind me interviewing you on camera?”
“I would be honored, Elizabeth.” Santa stuck out his hand for the girl to shake before turning to Noah and shaking his hand with a slight inclination of his head.
“Excellent!” Elizabeth beamed, as she turned to her boyfriend. “Where should we–”
“You guys are fine right there,” Noah insisted. “Just turn your backs toward the street and face Express so I can shoot you from that angle.”
As the three of them shuffled into place, Elizabeth informed the Salvation Army employee, “This isn’t live, don’t worry. We’re going to edit all the footage together later, and we’ll get it streaming on our service tonight.” When the man nodded, she asked, “By the way – how should I introduce you?”
“Just call me Santa Claus.” The man’s smile widened as he winked at her.
Noah, who was in the middle of framing the desired shot in the camera’s viewfinder, with his back to Express, glanced up at the statement, finding it bizarre. Elizabeth, however, nodded her understanding. “Inhabiting the role. Very cool! Love the commitment!” Then, addressing her boyfriend, she asked, “Are we good?”
“We’re good,” he replied. He held up three fingers and began a silent countdown as Elizabeth straightened her back, held her microphone up to her mouth, and forced a smile onto her face. The moment the red light atop of the camera blinked to life, Noah pointed at his girlfriend who launched into speech.
“We’re standing here on Seventh Avenue with the Santa Claus, who’s braving the storm and taking a break from preparing for his long journey tonight in order to help the Salvation Army raise money for the poor.” She turned to the man in question. “Merry Christmas Eve, Santa!”
“Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas Eve to you as well, Elizabeth!”
“Tell me, Santa – how do you find the time in the day? Especially today of all days?”
Santa chuckled. “I’m never too busy to help those in need or brighten somebody’s day. I choose to help the Salvation Army this time of the year not only because of their marvelous track record, but also because I believe in their core mission of helping others meet their basic needs without discrimination. Isn’t that really the whole point of the Christmas season? Good will toward men?”
“It certainly is.” Elizabeth nodded. “Let me ask you – in your opinion, do you think that people do enough to keep that message, along with the idealized one of ‘peace on earth’, close to their hearts year ‘round?”
Though the man still maintained his smile, something behind his eyes changed when he was asked the question. All of a sudden, he appeared much older and sadder than he had moments ago. “Unfortunately, no. But isn’t that why I exist? Not only to bring smiles to the faces of children on Christmas morning, but also to provide a living, breathing example of selfless giving for others to emulate?” He chuckled when he noticed how taken aback Elizabeth was by that statement. “Trust me, I’m no saint; I’m just as flawed as everybody else. But wouldn’t the world be a better place if more people tried to keep the core principles of what the holiday season is truly about alive all year long? If people never stopped believing in Santa, and strove to do more for others without expecting anything in return? Strove to scratch away tears and elicit smiles more often? Search deep within themselves to find the goodness, kindness, and love that resides in all of us and bring it to the surface? Try their absolute best to see the good within others?”
Elizabeth let out an uncomfortable laugh. “You’re sounding more like Jesus, here, than Santa Claus.”
Santa raised one of his bushy eyebrows. “Whose example do you think I’m following?” Then, before the girl could reply, he added, “I think I’m an easier pill for most people around the world to swallow nowadays. Despite the fact that Christmas is a Christian holiday, many people don’t observe the religious aspects of it anymore and thus look to me as the holiday’s figurehead instead of the person who is the literal reason for the season.”
“Actually,” Noah spoke up from behind the heavy camera on his shoulder. “The way that most of us celebrate Christmas nowadays has much more to do with pre-Christian, pagan festivals than it has to do with celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, who – if he existed – would have been born in the spring. So–”
“What are you doing?” Elizabeth hissed angrily. “Zip it, cameraman! You’re ruining the shot!”
“Sorry,” Noah mumbled.
Rolling her eyes, Elizabeth assured Santa, “Don’t worry – we’ll edit that out.” Then, after recomposing herself and forcing a smile onto her face yet again, she said, “Well, I think that’s a lovely way to live life, Santa; doing good for others and promoting peace and happiness around the world.” Turning to look directly into the camera, she added, “You’ll see these Salvation Army buckets around the city throughout the first of the year, so if you can afford to do so, please consider making a donation.”
“Every little bit helps, even if it’s just a penny,” Santa insisted enthusiastically. “And though me and my helpers will be disappearing from the street corners after the holidays, you can still donate online all year long. And please bear in mind, if the Salvation Army isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty more charities out there that you can donate to in order to help others; consider finding one that you like and giving what you can. I know times are tough, so if you can’t donate money, remember that you can always donate time to aid those less fortunate than you.”
Elizabeth nodded her agreement. “So, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask, Santa – how do you plan on spending tonight and tomorrow?”
Santa let out a hearty, “Ho, ho, ho!” before replying, “I think it’s pretty obvious what I’ll be doing tonight! As for tomorrow, I plan on spending the day with Mrs. Claus, my elves, and my reindeer before going on vacation until the New Year. Nowhere tropical though, for obvious reasons.” He smacked his overlarge stomach jovially. “Then it’s right back to work on January second to begin preparations for next Christmas!”
“You’re going to be delivering toys tonight in this storm?” Elizabeth motioned around them at the snow falling harder than ever, which was beginning to pile up high on the ground.
Santa laughed. “My dear, I live up at the north pole! I’m used to snowstorms much worse than this! This is picnic weather!”
“One more question,” Elizabeth promised, holding up a finger as the smirk on her face widened. “What are you bringing me for Christmas this year?”
“Telling you would ruin the surprise.” Santa winked at her. “But I can assure you that I know exactly what you want for Christmas this year, just like I know what everybody else wants for Christmas this year too.”
“Which is?” Elizabeth prompted. “Oh, come on! You can at least tell me that! It doesn’t necessarily mean you got it for me!”
Santa considered her for a moment, running over the logic of the woman’s argument in his head, before replying. “What you want for Christmas is to break a story for your college’s streaming service tonight that’s so big, it will be picked up by the major cable networks and jumpstart a career in journalism for you.” Elizabeth’s mouth dropped open in disbelief at the answer, and found to her surprise that the old man wasn’t quite done yet. “You also want…” He threw Noah a surreptitious glance before gently pushing Elizabeth’s arm down so that the microphone fell to her side, unable to pick up his voice as he leaned in to whisper into her ear. “Your boyfriend to ask you to move in with him. You also wouldn’t mind a tiffany engagement ring, but if you want my advice, I think you’re still a bit young to get married yet.”
Elizabeth gasped as Santa pulled away with a knowing smile. Noah stared between the two, confused, and when his girlfriend turned to glance back into the camera, he noticed that she looked as white as a ghost. “What’s wrong?” he asked, concerned. “Are you okay?”
“I…” She turned back to the Salvation Army employee. “How did you know–”
Noah whipped around with his camera to find a pair of siblings – a little boy who was no older than five, and a little girl who looked about three – running up to the man with enormous smiles on their faces. Behind them, a pair of harried looking parents followed, throwing the old man an apologetic glance. “I’m so sorry,” the overweight, bearded father began. “They insisted on coming up to speak to you. “They think that you’re the real Santa Claus.”
“There’s no need to apologize,” Santa replied, genuinely meaning it. “You have two smart kids here because of course I’m the real Santa Claus!” And with that, he squatted down to speak with the two children on their level. “What are your names?”
“Jude,” the young, sandy-haired boy with wide blue eyes and a toothy smile replied. “And this is my sister, Ellie.” He put his tiny arm around his even tinier sister, who looked exactly like her brother and was wearing an adorable Christmas dress that was just visible beneath a purple coat. “Hi,” she said shyly to Santa at the mention of her name.
“Well, Jude and Ellie, it’s nice to meet you!”
Before another word could be said, Elizabeth, who had finally managed to snap back to her senses, asked the parents of the young kids, “Do you mind if we videotape this?” She motioned at Noah. “We’re journalism majors, and we’re working on a Christmas puff piece for our school’s streaming service.”
“Not at all,” the thin, freckled, red-headed mother replied warmly, barely glancing up from her children to address the reporter. “Go right ahead.”
Elizabeth smiled and squatted down beside Santa, thankful she had been keeping up at the gym in recent weeks as she shoved her microphone between the Salvation Army worker and the kids to capture their conversation. “So tell me,” the old man began. “What do you two want for Christmas?”
“Peppa Pig!” The girl exclaimed excitedly, at which her mother spoke up to clarify. “She’s a huge fan of Peppa. She’s been asking for a stuffed version of her for months now.”
“Peppa Pig.” Santa nodded. “Sounds simple enough! And what about you, Jude?”
“LEGO superheroes!” He bounced up and down on the balls of his feet, excitedly.
Santa laughed. “Who are your favorite superheroes?”
“Batman and the Hulk!”
“They’re my favorite too,” Santa informed the child with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. “Well, Jude and Ellie, I have a feeling you’ll both have a very happy Christmas morning. But make sure you go to bed early tonight, alright? I can’t come into the house if you’re not sleeping.” After both kids nodded, awestruck by the legendary figure, he said, “Now, give me a hug!”
The kids didn’t need telling twice, and Noah smiled to himself as he caught the whole sweet moment on tape. While the kids were preoccupied, Elizabeth glanced up at the parents and asked, “Why did they want to talk to this Santa in particular?”
The father shrugged. “When they saw him, they insisted he was the real deal. I don’t know why they chose this one over any of the other ones.”
Elizabeth shivered, though whether it was due to the cold or the fact that it unnerved her that the two children believed this was the real Santa Claus on top of the fact that the man in question somehow mysteriously knew exactly what she wanted for Christmas, she didn’t know. She couldn’t dwell on it, however, because she had a job to do. “What brings you fine folks out in the middle of this storm this Christmas Eve?” she asked the parents, but before they could respond, she quickly added, “I’m sorry – I didn’t get your names!”
“I’m Julia,” the woman replied with a smile, and for the first time, Elizabeth detected a slight southern drawl. “And this is my husband, Thom. Henderson.”
Elizabeth nodded before addressing Noah. “I’ll add an introduction in via voiceover during post.” When he gave her a thumb’s up, she turned back to the young couple, smiling expectantly as she awaited their answer to her previously asked question.
“We’re in town from Oklahoma – Tulsa, to be exact – to visit my sister for the holidays,” Thom explained before gesturing at the bustling sidewalks around him. “How could we not be tourists while we’re here, snow or not?”
“Santa’s going to visit Auntie Cayla’s house!” Jude exclaimed excitedly, causing all of the adults to fix their eyes on him and Ellie. “He just told us so!”
Santa winked at the boy’s parents in response, a playful smirk on his face. “Have you and your sister been good this year?” Elizabeth asked the kids, amused.
“Yup!” Jude replied proudly. “Really good!” Ellie nodded beside him, too shy to speak up for herself. “We had to be! He sees us when we’re sleeping, and knows when we’re awake! He knows if we’ve been bad or good, so we had to be–”
“—good for goodness sake!” Ellie squeaked bashfully.
Elizabeth laughed as Jude continued. “Plus, mommy and daddy said Zac ELFron is always watching us as well to make sure we’re behaving, and if we’re not, they say he’s going to go back to the north pole to tell Santa.”
Julia rolled her eyes as Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. “Zac ELFron?” she asked the parents.
Thom laughed, as Julia explained, “My husband thought he was clever when he came up with that name for the kids’ Elf on the Shelf.”
Noah was unable to stifle a laugh at the explanation, at which everyone turned to stare at him. “I think that’s enough for now,” Elizabeth said pointedly, as she pushed herself to her feet. Once the camera was turned off, she turned to the family of four and said, “Thank you so much for letting us ask you a few questions! And thank you, Santa,” she turned to the old man. “For letting me interview you.”
“Always glad to help,” Santa replied, as he stood up straight again.
“Let’s go, Noah,” Elizabeth instructed. “We have more work to do.” And with a hand raised in farewell, the young couple started up the street as the family of four continued on their way down it, leaving Santa alone to “Ho, ho, ho!” repeatedly as he rang his bell, appealing for donations. “I think we got some good stuff!”
“I think you mean some good fluff,” Noah replied with a cheeky grin, which caused his girlfriend to roll her eyes. “That guy made a pretty good Santa Claus. He seemed really into it. I mean, he didn’t even break character once! He’s like those costumed-characters at Disney – they don’t even break from their roles for adults!”
“Yeah,” Elizabeth agreed, preoccupied.
“So…?” Noah began expectantly. “What did he whisper in your ear, anyway? Did he nail what you wanted for Christmas?”
Elizabeth went red at the words. The truth was, the man had nailed down exactly what she wanted for Christmas – including one particular desire she had never revealed to anybody but herself. But she wasn’t about to admit that to her boyfriend. So, forcing a smile onto her face, she replied, “He just made a joke about you, that’s all. You already know he guessed what I wanted for Christmas. You heard that part.”
“Yeah, well,” Noah shrugged. “It doesn’t exactly take rocket science to guess that a journalism major out working on Christmas Eve wants a big break to jumpstart her career.”
“That’s true,” Elizabeth replied, comforted by Noah’s take on the matter; for if that were the case, the man could just have easily have guessed that she wanted a long-term future with her boyfriend. Still, there was something so genuine about him; he had given her the impression that he knew, without a shadow of a doubt, exactly what she wanted. Shaking her head, she forced a smile onto her face before pointing toward the top of One Times Square, atop of which was the Time’s Square Ball, made of crystal and illuminated by LEDs, that would drop at midnight on New Year’s Eve to ring in the New Year. “Get a shot of the ball,” she said. “That’ll look good with the rest of our establishing shots.”
Noah acquiesced by raising the camera to his shoulder, aiming it where his girlfriend pointed, and shooting some footage of the iconic sphere in question. As he taped it, he asked, “What do you want to do for New Year’s Eve, anyway?”
“I thought I’d volunteer us to take that shift as well,” she replied nonchalantly. When Noah did a quick double-take, looking panic-stricken, she rolled her eyes and laughed. “Relax! I’m joking!”
“Thank God!” Noah let out a long sigh of relief.
“I know I’m wonderful, but there’s no need to call me God.” Elizabeth playfully nudged her hip against his with a flirty wink. “Come on. It’s still early, and there are plenty of stories around this city just waiting for us to find them so we can tell them!”