With all there is to do this week, my feelings toward this holiday season have changed, and I complete those final preparations with a new awareness of what I have and what's truly important in this life. To the outside eye, it seems things haven't changed a whole lot around here, but inside there's a longing for a stripped-down version of Christmas, and I'm starting to think that version makes more sense all the time.
This weekend, we found joy at 'Breakfast with Santa,' on a small little farm south of town. A few weeks ago, I purchased three tickets to attend this event that included a morning of stable animals, Christmas carols at the piano, and a sleigh ride to a remote log cabin to eat cinnamon rolls with Santa himself. Once excited about this Saturday morning adventure as a family, the events of Friday's tragedy in Connecticut left me feeling anything but Christmassy. The rain and dreariness was fitting for my mood, and I felt tempted to lay on the couch in pajamas and watch the news all day long.
All I can say now is thank goodness they were pre-paid.
This little place south of town proved to be a little pocket of magic for our family of three. I'm not sure if it really was that magical, or if it was Cruz's excitement, or the fact that deep down, I was in need of this little escape, but I walked away filled with joy and contentment, as if Christmas could have come and gone in my sleep and I'd be more than okay with it. It was simple and it was an experience I will remember for a long time.
It started with the animals. They had two donkeys, two goats, and a dog, all together in a hay-filled pen, surrounded by a wood-burning stove, some bunnies and chickens, and an old wood piano with a sweet lady playing Christmas carols to set the mood. Cruz didn't hesitate by the size of the donkeys, and immediately asked that Beau lift him over the gate and into their home. He went to each one, petted them so sweet, and proclaimed 'he's nice!' with pride and compassion. He laughed when Ringo the donkey brushed up against him, and knelt down in the hay to get face-to-face with the goat trying to nap in the corner. Cruz wanted nothing to do with the hay mound playground set up in the loft above the pen, and would have stayed with those animals all day if we let him. But soon, a big, burly man dressed in coveralls came in the barn, ringing a bell, shouting 'Sleigh leaves in five minutes!' signaling it was our time to go. Cruz resisted at first, but soon saw what was next and was more than ready to see where these horses had to take him.
The horse-drawn sleigh led us down a path to this storybook log cabin in the middle of the woods. The only thing that would have made this better would be a blanket of snow. The cabin was small but cozy, with thick pieces of evergreen garland and white lights strung along a porch that led to the front door. And as we pulled up to this cabin, one man awaited our arrival, waving and shouting the jolliest 'Ho, ho, ho' my ears have ever heard.
Cruz must have been caught up in the moment too, because our little boy gravitated towards this sweet Santa, sunk into his arms, and hugged him only the way that a little person can hug someone. It was pure love for this man, and Santa ate every second of it up. As a proud grandpa carries his grandchild through a crowd, Santa greeted others with Cruz in his arms, and in those few minutes, every disdain Cruz once held for Santa dripped away like a puddle of melted snow.
And I melted right along with it...
Once inside, Cruz let Santa converse with the other children, and we made ourselves at home, sharing cinnamon rolls, sipping cider, and singing carols with the sweet lady at the piano. We played on the porch, warmed up by the outdoor fire pit outside, and felt a million miles from the stress and sadness we had left behind.
I hope I never forget how sweet Cruz was. How we waved and waved and said 'Bye, Santa' in his little voice until he couldn't see Santa anymore. How he hugged him with all the love he could give and seemed to form a special connection with this sweet Santa. How he sucked his candy cane, and tromped through the mud, and bolted towards the horses as soon as the sleigh came to pick us up. He was so excited about the experience, and his joy was what every parent lives for.
And lastly, before we took our mud-covered shoes to the car, Cruz rode his first horse. Proud as can be, he sat big and tall on that sweet donkey, as if he knew just what he was doing. His face says it all...
If I could bottle up this day, it would sit on my shelf forever. It was joy, it was peace, and it was an image of the constant I long to keep in his life. Just a little boy, unaware of pain, or hurt, or sadness, just happy to in a pen with stable animals, or in the arms of a man dressed in red.
It was an image of Christmas I won't ever forget. I am thankful I have it.