When I was a child, the largest parade in North America was the Eaton’s Santa Claus parade. Eaton’s was a department store of legend, akin to Harrod’s in London and Macy’s in New York, except that Eaton’s had branches across Canada. Children applied to march in the parade, sometimes waiting years until they were chosen and in danger of not being considered children anymore.
Held in late November, first in Toronto, always on a Saturday morning, the floats and costumes were then transported by train to Montreal, where the parade resumed the following Saturday morning. The spectacle was televised on both the English and French networks, and CBC radio dramas broadcast Santa’s perilous flight from the North Pole. In later years imitators would turn up in markets and malls, but everybody knew that the REAL Santa Claus was the Santa Claus who was hosted by Eaton’s.
After the parade, Santa was installed on a red velvet throne that matched his red velvet suit, in a private room set aside especially for such a grand personage. The arms and frame of his throne were painted Fool’s Gold.
A leafless, silver-branched tree studded with winking white lights twinkled beside him. A court photographer hovered in the background. Santa’s Helpers stood sentinel, armed with multi-coloured lollipops. These helpers wore mossy green tights, green suede tunics, and on their heads perched floppy green caps topped by white pompoms. We were told these creatures were elves, yet they bore a marked resemblance to teenagers from local high schools moonlighting on a Saturday morning.
When the stage was set and the fantasy characters in position, a rope serving as a partition was lifted, and a swarm of exhilarated children raced into the enclosure. Me and my little brother were two of them. Like most of the mob we came with, we were accompanied by a parent. In our case, it was our dad.
Excitedly, we stood in line with our peers. We knew that when the time came to address Santa, we were expected to ask him for a Christmas gift. What could we ask for? We were Jewish, and didn’t keep a Christmas tree. There was no chimney, let alone a fireplace installed in our small apartment. How could Santa reach us? Where would he make his delivery?
The children who stood in line with us were casually attired, but my brother and I were dressed up and immaculately groomed for what we considered a major event. I wore a blue dress with a blue and white bordered collar and patterned stripe down the middle. A black band held thick chestnut-coloured hair off my high forehead, and my softly-textured, snow-white cardigan was spangled with golden butterfly appliques. But it was my little brother Michael who rivaled Santa in the colour and originality of his outfit. Michael was resplendent in scarlet red leggings, a matching red, white and blue hockey sweater with the logo of the Montreal Canadiens proudly emblazoned and promoted on his little chest, and to top off the ensemble, he sported a red, white and blue cap on his golden, crew-cut head. Go, Habs, Go! As we drew closer to the front of the line, nervously Little Michael turned to Dad. “What do I do when I get to Santa? What should I say?”
Instantly, Dad deadpanned, “Tell the guy you want cold cash.”
I frowned. My big brown eyes narrowed as I peered at Dad. I wasn’t sure this was a good idea, but Little Michael took Daddy at his word.
As a teen-aged elf removed a rope, handed us fistfulls of lollipops—which Michael handed over to me to hold—confidently he approached Santa’s throne and greeted him. “Hello!” Michael beamed.
“Hello, little boy.” Santa’s returned Michael’s greeting. “How are you?”
“I’m fine. How are you?”
It was hard to tell under his rug of beard and bushy white eyebrows, but Santa seemed taken aback.
“Ahh, what would you like for Christmas, little boy.”
Guilelessly, Michael grinned and carried out Daddy’s instructions. “I want cold cash!”
Pouf! A hot white light flashed and popped. The photographer hired by Eaton’s was taking a picture of us with Santa, a copy of which Dad would have to pay for with cold cash.
Santa spluttered. He was speechless. He looked to our dad. As sweetly as his son, but not so guileless, Daddy smirked. “Ho ho ho!” He winked at the discombobulated dispenser of gifts. Meeeerry Christmas!”
About the author
S. Nadja Zajdman is a Canadian author. In 2022 she published the story collection The Memory Keeper (Bridgehouse Publishing, Manchester) as well as the memoir I Want You To Be Free (Hobart Books, Oxford). In 2023 Zajdman published a second memoir, Daddy's Remains (MacKenzie Publishing in Canada)
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