By Ruth Yunker
Christmas Eve has come to Laguna Beach yet once again. I’m remembering a Christmas Eve in 1983. I’d just moved with my children back here from Baltimore. It was my daughter’s first California Christmas. She was three and a half and she was desolate. This new place was hot and dusty. The leaves on the trees hadn’t changed color. It wasn’t cold. And most importantly of all, there was no snow on the ground. How on earth was Santa Claus even going to find her, so far away from where she used to live, and not even a speck of snow to guide him.
Every day since Halloween, she had gone out onto the balcony every morning, and anxiously scanned the sky for snow clouds. That year was unlike this wet year. It was a hot December. I’d put the Christmas tree in the west window in the living room, and the poor thing had fried. And the worst of all was there was not a single cloud in the sky.
“Santa will find us,” I assured my daughter over and over. Her scowl grew deeper.
“How? This place doesn’t look like anyplace Santa ever goes to.”
So I tried to find books that showed Santa lounging on a beach. Santa shimmying down a palm tree. Santa wearing sunglasses. Nothing. You know how it goes. There’s snow and a lot of it, in Santa’s world.
Christmas Eve I asked Dana if she’d like to help put out Santa’s snack.Her look was dour. Josh, her big brother and blithely unconcerned about Santa making it to Laguna, carried the plate of cookies to the fireplace. He patted his sister’s head. “Santa is smarter than you think.” She brushed his hand away, and skulked away to bed, her three-year-old shoulders drooping.
The next morning Joshua and I rushed to the living room. Dana dragged in a minute later. “Look,” I exclaimed, gesturing to the mother lode of packages underneath the tree. For a second her eyes widened, but then she caught herself, and they shut down.
“You bought all those,” she said. “I know there’s really no Santa.”
We had planned a Christmas celebration down at Aliso Beach with friends. At the time I’d loved the idea. How cool was it to actually spend Christmas Day on a beach.
But once there, I saw it only added to Dana’s woes. Damn.
Our friend’s little girl bounced up to drag Dana down to the water. She had no worries about Santa. She was a Laguna Beach baby, and Santa found her every year. “C’mon,” she hollered to Dana. Dana was flipping the sand up and down. “Hey,” Lily said, plopping down. “The sand looks like snow!”
“No it doesn’t” said Dana. But she paused, looking at the sand.
“Yes it does,” yelled Lily. “White like snow. Let’s pretend this is really snow!”
My inner light bulb went on. “Dana,” I said, “that’s right! Obviously Santa looked down and thought this was snow, and that’s how he found our house last night.” Dana looked thoughtful.
“Snow,” Lily sang out again. A small light began to come back into my daughter’s face.
“Snow, “she said, her voice low. She let the sand roll through her fingers. “Snow!” she shouted. “This is how he got here last night!” Her beautiful little face finally lit up.
She and Lily grabbed hands and ran down to the water.
“Thank you,” I whispered to Santa Claus.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Ruth Yunker is a writer and humorist, and the author of “Me, Myself and Paris.”