Recently, I read about a man in Oxnard, Mike Barber, who is executive director of the Santa to the Sea half-marathon. He is building a “Rudolf” statue to keep company with Santa Claus, the huge statue that sits on the northbound side of the 101 Freeway on the north end of Oxnard (relocated from Carpinteria, where he was no longer welcome), with his sunglasses on, waving in good cheer to all who drive by.
Now, in the scheme of things, big and small, this is not such a “big thing,” is it? I mean, come on, a statue of Santa Claus? But … something about all of this stuck with me and I realized that if this isn’t big, then what is? Oh, sure, bombings and shootings and threats of war, terrorism, racism, starvation, homelessness. Those are all big things — among many others. So where does Santa Claus fit in with these times?
I took my little boy up to Santa Claus Lane in Carpinteria, from his first birthday in 1990 through his 12th. We would drive sometimes all the way up to Santa Barbara and then always, ALWAYS stop to say “Hi” to Santa on the way back home to Oxnard. I believe at one point they even had some live reindeer in the back, which we could also visit. Santa was a yearly Christmas trip (we would eat there and buy gifts and souvenirs) and it was always a happy one; my little guy “high-fiving” Santa, talking to him (until he was older and then just mumbling to him). And then came the news: Santa was being torn down. (Removed from Santa Claus Lane? How idiotic was that?) I couldn’t bring myself to tell my son, but on the next trip up to Santa Barbara he looked out the window and exclaimed: “Where’s Santa? What happened to Santa?” with tears in his eyes. I don’t remember what I told him, but it was some idiotic excuse for an idiotic decision, which, of course, did not console him at all. We never visited Santa Claus Lane again.
And then came the news that Santa was being relocated to Oxnard. Big deal? You bet! I couldn’t wait to take my son to see Santa standing in the sun and waving to us. “Do you think he remembers us?” he asked me. “Of course. Who could ever forget YOU? Certainly not Santa!” was my enthusiastic and grateful (to the rescuer) reply. He kept a watch out for Santa on every trip past that spot from then on, and he and I would both smile (he would wave). To this day, the sight of that Santa brings a huge thump to my heart and a few tears (of joy and remembrance) to my eyes.
Now I learn that Mike Barber not only rescued Santa and is building him some figures (statues) to keep him company, but he employs this iconic figure to create charitable gifts locally, most specifically donations to Boys and Girls Club and FOOD Share. So how big is THAT! Very big, to my way of thinking. Here is a man who realized that this figure stood for something: good will, joy, hope, charity, giving to others, reaching out. And he made sure that this icon continued. It has nothing to do with religion per se (I, as it happens, am Jewish); it has to do with the spirit and joy of childhood and giving and being part of a community that cares. It has to do with all of us.
My son is now 24 years old and the father of his own child. She will be a year old this August and they do not live in California anymore (although he is counting the days until he returns to Oxnard). He will be taking her to see Santa in Iowa, and even though there may be lots of snow on the ground there, there will not be a Santa with sunglasses high-fiving him and his family. He and I will never forget our Santa. Thanks to Mike, and the wonderful giving people of Ventura County, we never have to.
Let’s always remember that sometimes the important stuff is in the small things. This may not be headline-creating news, but imagine the impact all of this has on everyone. The joy of children driving past Santa, the marathoners who run for a cause, with a purpose, and the meaning of it all, the scholarships provided for our youngsters, the programs at Boys and Girls Club, the meals provided by FOOD Share and the other groups that Mike/Santa helps support.
Merry everything, Santa! And thanks, Mike, for letting Santa know how important he is. And for keeping him in our lives.
Jan Richman Schulman is a resident of Oxnard.