Originally published on December 24, 2012
It was the morning of Christmas Eve, and once again, it didn’t feel like Christmas.
It had been years since I last celebrated Christmas – but I remember it well.
It was in 1983 at my parents’ place in Midland, Ontario.
My family always got together to celebrate Christmas at my parent’s home – but I had missed the last couple of Christmases because I lived in Vancouver.
Dad came to the Toronto airport to pick me up.
I had yet to see their new home in Midland – but I was more excited about seeing my Mom and brothers and sisters and my niece and nephew.
That’s what Christmas was all about to the St. Andrews family – being together and enjoying our unique traditions.
Some of those traditions included arriving on Christmas Eve and spending the night – so we could all get up together – just like when we were all growing up at our home in Oshawa and then later in Georgetown.
At my parent’s home in Georgetown, my Dad built a fantastic bar in the rec room, and he would wear a Christmas hat while he served drinks from his perch on a stool behind the bar – which he considered “sacred” ground.
You NEVER went behind the bar when Dad was on duty – the words ‘self-serve’ did not exist in his bar.
And as we arrived on Christmas Eve, the first thing you heard when you entered their house was the laughter and shouting from downstairs.
A few hugs and kisses with Mom, and then you would head downstairs to reunite with the clan.
Early on Christmas morning – probably no later than 6:00 AM, Dad would be the first one to awake – eager to act as Santa.
We would all gather around the Christmas Tree in the family room, and Dad would give each person one gift to open – beginning with my Mom.
Everyone would watch quietly as each person opened their present – and then there would be loud outbursts of “ooh’s and ahh’s.”
My brothers, sisters, and I would then prepare breakfast for everyone – and let Mom have the day off from the kitchen.
Immediately after, we would all gather at the Christmas Tree and continue to open all the gifts.
About mid-morning, Dad would announce that the bar was open.
Later, Mom would bring a platter of Scotch Eggs for us to snack on.
And then, about mid-afternoon, we would all gather in the dining room for a sumptuous turkey dinner.
My brother-in-law Brian – a professional photographer, would get everyone together for a family portrait – which we would later receive framed copies of.
Some of us would then start to leave to go to our respective homes, which always made my Mom cry.
She was happiest when she had every one of us together – as a family – and still pleaded with us:
Do you have to leave, so soon?
So, on this morning of Christmas Eve, I was having a coffee and looking at one of those family portraits – and I got homesick.
Homesick because I missed my Mom and Dad – and family – and those magical Christmases we used to share.
And I missed not having that special feeling that I used to get every year – at Christmas.
Two years ago, I went to Costco and bought a ton of outdoor Christmas lights – and decorated all of the hedges, evergreens, and the fence along the driveway.
I had just finished my cancer treatments and didn’t know how many more Christmases I would be around for – and desperately hoped that the lights would bring back that special Christmas feeling.
But they didn’t.
Last week I wrote a blog about buying a complete Santa Claus outfit – so I could visit all of the patients at the Fraser Valley Cancer Centre – where I received radiation and chemotherapy treatments – and where I have been volunteering every week for the past 16 months.
But on the morning of Christmas Eve, I decided to get dressed as Santa Claus, again, and go to the Cancer Centre and Surrey Memorial Hospital for a visit.
As soon as I walked into the hospital lobby, a woman ran up to me, pleading,
Oh, Santa, could I get a picture with you and my Mom?
Sure, Ho, Ho, Ho!
The mother slowly walked up to me – she was in her patient gown and wearing a Christmas hat.
I hugged her and was posing with her for the picture – when her daughter suddenly said:
Mom, why are you crying?
Before the mother could answer, I squeezed her closer to me and asked her why she was crying.
She stared up at me, and with tears rolling down her cheek, she cried:
Because I never thought I would ever meet Santa Claus!
I kissed her on the cheek and whispered into her ear:
I will always be with you.
I toured the Cancer Centre and then walked down the hall to the adjoining Surrey Memorial Hospital and took the elevator up to 51 North – the Oncology Floor.
I had been a patient there several times during my cancer treatments – and when I was at my lowest point, I didn’t think I was going to survive.
So, I walked into each of the patients’ rooms and wished them all a happy holiday.
On my way back to the elevator, I noticed a Palliative Care sign over the entrance to another floor wing.
This is where the terminally ill patients stay before they die, I thought to myself.
I walked into the ward, and all of the medical staff were surprised to see Santa.
After posing for several photos, I asked if it would be okay to say hello to the patients.
They replied in unison:
Of course, you can – you’re Santa Claus!
I made my way around the ward, entering each of the rooms and then holding each of the patients’ hands.
I didn’t know what to say but what suddenly burst out of my mouth was:
I know that you’ve always believed in me, and I just wanted to drop by to say hello, and thank you.
In the last room I visited, there was a patient – an older man – who was wearing a Christmas hat.
When he saw me, his eyes lit up, and he said:
When I woke up this morning, I was excited with the hope that maybe a friend or family member might drop by for a visit. But nobody had until you, Santa Claus!’
He held my hand for the longest time and just stared at me.
And then, he muttered:
Thank you, Santa – and Merry Christmas!
I turned to leave his room – my eyes were filling with tears, and I didn’t want him to see me cry.
After all, he believed in Santa Claus.
And now, so do I.
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Today’s Tune (from Danny’s library of purchased music):
Where Are You Christmas – lyrics
Where are you Christmas
Why can’t I find you
Why have you gone away
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me
Why can’t I hear music play?
My world is changing
Does that mean Christmas changes too?
Where are you Christmas
Do you remember
The one you used to know
I’m not the same one
See what the time’s done
Is that why you have let me go
Christmas is here
Christmas is here
If you care, oh
If there is love in your heart and your mind
You will feel like Christmas all the time
Oh, I feel you Christmas
I know I’ve found you
You never fade away, oh
The joy of Christmas
Stays here inside us
Fills each and every heart with love
Where are you Christmas
Fill your heart with love
Songwriters: James Horner / Mariah Carey / Wilbur Jennings
Where Are You Christmas lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG Rights Management