In spite of consisting of (mostly) devout Christians, my family firmly and fervently loves Santa Claus.
Every year as far back as I can remember, Santa has visited our Christmas Eve party.
Rehfeldt Christmas Eve parties are the stuff of legends. We head out in the winter weather to sing carols, enjoy fantastic family favorite foods (Aunt Judi's Chocolate Chip Cookies, Grandma's Potato Salad, and Tammy's Reuben Dip, etc.), and listen as Grandma reads the Christmas story from the Bible. We watch little kids sing songs and quote verses.
We hear a poem from Aunt Jan, laugh our way through one of BJ's mind-bending skits, and shed a tear or two during a sentimental reading of Christmas past. We play Uncle Scott's crazy games and catch up with our long-lost relatives who traveled over hill and dale to attend the party.
But there is always that magical moment.
The moment when Uncle Scott holds up the sleigh bells and merrily jingles them to the delight of everyone in the room. An electric tingle races through the room.
We switch from singing Silent Night and O Little Town of Bethlehem to Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, and the grand finale...Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. The singing gets louder and louder until the very last word is sung. When the last note dies out, a hearty HO, HO, HO rings out as Santa makes his entrance.
He waddles into the room resplendent in red and white, a huge sack thrown over his shoulder. He makes some glib comment about his reindeer and settles himself next to Grandma in a comfy chair at the head of the room. He digs deep into his bag and pulls out a present.
"Noah? Is there a Noah here?"
And before you know it, Noah is perched atop Santa's lap as photos are snapped, the flashes nearly blinding. No one is safe from Santa. No matter how old you are, there is always the possibility of getting called to sit on Santa's lap, the requisite requirement to receiving your gift.
Santa was there when I was a child, and Santa will be there for my child. Santa lives on.
Many men have contributed to Santa's long-standing longevity. There was the first Santa, my grandfather. I have a treasured family photo that shows a little red dress bedecked ragamuffin (yours truly) sitting on Grandpa Santa's lap, although I don’t remember it.
Over the years, my Uncle Timmy, Cousin Brad Molander, and even my dad helped fill Santa's shoes.
But the man who has pulled on those red trousers more than any other, the Santa of my childhood, is my Uncle Dave.
Any other time of year, Uncle Dave is one of those uncles.
You know the kind I mean. The loud uncle. The one with the constant beard stubble and the gruff voice. The one with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other. He's the one person who always calls you "kid" no matter how old you are.
Underneath his hard-boiled exterior, however, lurks the teddy bear, revealed in small doses through sly winks, hair-tousling, and the rare and treasured hug.
How Uncle Dave inherited the Santa job from Grandpa I'll never know.
He is certainly not sentimental like Uncle Timmy, not gregarious like Uncle Scott, not uber-intellectual like Uncle Ronnie, and not likely to be featured in the pages of GQ like Uncle Bruce.
Perhaps what Uncle Dave is...is real. Making it especially ironic that he slips into his Santa persona, into character as one of the most fabled fiction entities of all time, with an ease the most seasoned actor would envy.
For those few minutes every year, Uncle Dave IS Santa. Even long after I figured out exactly who was hiding under that beard and felt-tipped hat, I found it easy to trust Santa walked among us.
If it was only for ten minutes a year, I had the opportunity to relive my childhood through that gravelly voice, the familiar belly laugh, and the slightly smoky hug I got from the man in red.
(As kids, we were told the “fireplace aroma” was from all the chimneys Santa had been sliding down!)
But this year is different.
This year, Santa was told he is suffering from six cancerous lesions on his brain. Stage four brain cancer.
My Uncle Dave is fighting back with all his typical bravado. Going up against cancer with a ferocity that should make cancer shake in its boots. You do not mess with Uncle Dave.
And you especially do not mess with Santa.
When asked, his doctor said he will be fighting a losing battle. Uncle Dave has not given up though, because Rehfeldts don’t give up. We trust, we pray, we love, and we hope.
I know Santa will never die. Santa will still come to our party. He will hand out gifts and delight children and adults alike. It will be his voice our children remember as they look back on their holiday memories.
But the man underneath, in all the white fur and red velvet trappings, will know he has some big shoes to fill.
We are Christians. We believe in miracles. We believe God can heal Uncle Dave if it is His will. It would be an answer to prayer to have Uncle Dave distributing presents and ho, ho, ho-ing his way down the aisles again.
Personally, I want Sam to receive his first Santa gift from Uncle Dave. But I know it will take an act of God.
It is because of this, I ask you to join my family in praying for Santa. Because while we love Santa, we firmly and fervently believe in God.
And we believe God can save Santa. In more ways than one.
Thank you for your prayers!