This was a sight I have longed to see ever since last Christmas, when I first realized that the young family next door to us had an lighted inflatable Santa Claus in their front yard for the holidays. He is twenty feet tall, maybe even taller. I'll never forget seeing him for the first time: his presence would test my Christian charity, I thought as my taxi rounded the corner and Santa hove into view. My own taste in outdoor Christmas decor is restrained: tiny white lights, a wreath on the door, a rope of evergreen surrounding it. Done.
Imagine my shock the next morning when I walked out of the house and saw that the twenty-foot Santa had collapsed and died in the yard. Immediately I felt guilty for not having liked him more when he was alive, sorry for the elitist things I had been thinking about him, very sorry that the little boys who live in the house would have to see this terrible thing that had happened. They would be devastated, I thought. How could children so young come to terms with the death of Santa? And in their own yard? It was all too painful.
But lo -- when I returned home that evening, Santa had risen from the dead! There he stood, good as new, brightly lit from within as before, arms outstretched, swaying slightly in the night breeze. Now I understood: inflatable Santas die and rise daily. They're like Osiris.
I'd love to see him, you know, rise, I hinted to the boys' mother. Let me know sometime when you're going to inflate him. She smiled tolerantly and said she would try. But this is a busy time of year. My schedule is full, and I am ordinarily not yet home when darkness falls. Santa is always looming brightly over the hedge when I pull in. Again and again, I have missed his resurrection.
I also think Santa may be on a timer.
For the most part, I had given up my ambition to see him rise. But fortune can smile on a person in an instant --today, as I turned into the driveway while it was still light, I caught a glimpse of something red and white in motion next door. Santa was on the ground, bent over at the waist, his face buried in his limp knees, which were twitching a bit as they inflated. His arms were still shapeless rags at his side, but he was struggling to his feet.
This was simply too good to be true. I backed up to get a better view. Now Santa was solidly on his knees, and slowly he arose, still bent but straightening by the second. His head lifted as he sought the sky; his arms filled out to open wide in a secular benediction, each hand attached to a line tethering the old elf to the earth. Finally he stood, swaying gently.
I have yet to witness the necessary preamble, the terrible recurring death that precedes this glorious recurring moment. I have not seen Santa gasp in sudden disbelief as his power begins to desert him, have not seen him stagger and fall, have not seen the surreal flattening of his bright body as it spills like liquid over the cold ground.
I can wait.