Santa arrived at our house in Bellmore in a simple cardboard envelope.
He came as a paper template, like a sewing pattern, accompanied by instructions.
We required a plank of wood, a saw and paint. My father laid the template on the wood and skillfully cut it out. My mother painted Santa’s boots black, his suit red and gave his mittens green stripes. The finished product: a life-size wooden cutout of Santa Claus.
In that inaugural year, 1953, with a spotlight cast upon him, Santa was firmly staked in December’s frozen ground in front of the Cape Cod-style home my father had just finished building. Santa was approximately 52 inches tall and adorned my family’s front lawn in Bellmore every December for nearly half a century.
For certain, Santa was an integral part of our holiday traditions. As children, my four siblings and I stood next to the wooden cutout and posed for pictures, which undoubtedly would be incorporated into the following year’s Christmas card. Santa’s annual appearance was captured on 8-mm film as he retained a recurring role in our family’s holiday home movies.
Santa was tucked away in the attic all year, but would make his annual debut on the front lawn on a Saturday in mid-December. Outdoor lights were strung, an indoor artificial tree was doused in tinsel and stockings were hung. Santa was the catapulting force for the commencement of yuletide festivities.
I still relish that old Santa; he was indicative of simpler days. The tradition and the wood cutout have been lost with the passage of time.
Each holiday season, I find myself searching eBay and Etsy for the 1953 template, or perhaps a wooden Santa replica. Some years I have found similar wooden lawn ornaments, but in the end my diligent search has proved futile.
However, this year Christmas arrived early. On the day after Thanksgiving, I dropped by the Long Island Trading Post thrift store in North Bellmore to donate a wall mirror. I like that the store gives its proceeds to needy families on Long Island.
A clerk helped me carry the mirror from my car. Then I wished her a good day and a happy holiday, but as I exited, I glanced at my wall mirror and envisioned a family gathered around a table enjoying a Christmas dinner. Rather suddenly, something caught my attention in the reflection, an array of items randomly displayed on the shop’s opposite wall. And what to my wondering eye should appear, but a replica of my wooden Santa Claus circa 1953! There he stood, exactly as I had remembered him — jovial in his red suit, waving at me with his green-striped mitten!
No doubt this cutout was created from the same template! Although the post attached to the back was different, in all other respects it was identical.
I stood in awe. I barraged the clerk with questions. Where did the wooden Santa come from? How long had it been here? Who dropped it off? And most important, was it sold?
She responded to my St. Nick interrogatory by stating that Santa had arrived the day before Thanksgiving and was still for sale.
I bought the wooden Santa for $25. He is now staked in our front yard with a spotlight on him. A family tradition has been restored and a bit of Christmas karma unwrapped, just in time for the holidays.
Reader Patricia Rossi lives in Merrick.