Santa lives in Brooklyn

I met Santa Claus yesterday in front of my apartment in Brooklyn. He wore a long red jacket, with a matching cap, and he rang a small bell. Christmas carols blasted from a speaker above his head.

As I approached he smiled warmly, and reached his hand into a small wicker basket, removing a candy cane. He bowed his head slightly and stretched a gloved hand toward me, offering me the candy cane. I accept.

My eyes stare into his and suddenly I am a kid again. Memories of Santa’s knees, milk and cookies, and coconut-stuffed stockings rush over me. I thank Santa for the gift and wonder which of his two lists I’m on this year.

Santa is actually my neighbor Chris. The costume is convincing, by far the best I’ve seen in a while. His usual silver hair and beard have been dyed snow white. His jacket looks to be velvet, the cap embroidered, fitted gloves on his fingers. He stands outside his house every day for a couple of hours, ringing a bell and giving out candy canes.

“You know, for the kids,” he says cheerfully.

Throughout the year, his is a smile always warm, despite the fact that he is a much better neighbor to me than I am to him. He collects packages for me, and always has kind words and a hello. My stoop is often littered with papers and garbage thrown by passers by. I’m sure he wishes that I cleaned up more, but he never mentions it.

As Santa, there is a newfound sparkle in his eye and a spring in his step.

He is usually outside hanging out on the small patio separated from the street by a stone fence. He stands, leaning forward on his elbows, listening to music and talking to friends, who form a small semi-circle around him. They speak Spanish mostly, especially when I’m around.

I wonder what they say about the way the area is changing. I wonder if he’d prefer that a family live in the house next to him, rather than four college graduates. The family’s small children would perhaps better appreciate his Santa outfit and decorations. Perhaps they would believe that they lived next door to the real Santa. Their parents would explain to them that Santa keeps two houses. One in the North Pole and one on Humboldt Street in Brooklyn.

He decorates profusely for every holiday and spares no expense for Christmas. Long strands of blue lights hang down from the roof, more lights line the doorway and still more are intertwined with red ribbon along the stone fence.

The house is visible from blocks away, literally lighting up the street. A large “Happy Holidays” sign shimmers and a small plastic Santa sleigh perches near the roof, stretching toward a large star above it.

It’s how I give directions to my house.

“My door is after the house with all of the lights. You may see Santa Claus outside. Don’t worry, it’s only my neighbor.”

It’s interesting to see how my friends who come over react to him. Many times, I open the door to find them in mid-conversation, candy cane in hand, smile on their face.

“Nice guy.” they say. “Is he out there every day?

“Yeah,” I answer. “You know, for the kids.”

They laugh, hold up the candy cane and gesture to the two of us. “For the kids.”

I am trying to think back to last year and I can’t remember Chris dressing up, although he tells me that he did. Strange because it’s made such an impression on me this year. I wonder how I could have missed him out there everyday leading up to Christmas. I wonder what I was doing.

I’m thankful to have him as my neighbor. Thankful that there are interesting things going on all around me.

I wonder if he knows how much of an effect his presence has had on me this holiday season. I wonder if he could tell that maybe I needed a candy cane and a warm smile from Santa, and had been searching for some sort of distraction from the craziness, something pure, something that isn’t bought or wrapped.

I realize that I don’t know Chris’ last name. It could be Kringle. This could be his second home to the North Pole. He could dye his hair gray in January so no one suspects, counting down the months to December when he can emerge from his hiding place, under the guise of an impersonator.

And maybe I’m the kid who lives next door who believes in Santa.