I dreamed I took my daughter to Christmastown for her present. We drove past the famous block outside Baltimore that does all the over-the-top decorations. It was closed – there was a huge gate across the entrance with a sign saying “Do not open until Christmas!” I had thought people lived there all year.
We were early.
As we approached Christmastown, the car slowed as we neared the White Gate. There was a Santa statue next to it, beckoning us in. Up close, by the headlights, I could see the paint on the gate starting to peel. We went over something like a speed bump just in front of the gate, and as the weight of the car hit it, the gate opened. As we crossed through the White Gate of Christmastown, our car became a gondola, and we left the ground.
We were conveyed in our gondola toward the only visible structure in the enclosure, the Green Gate of Christmastown. I glanced at my daughter, whose face was a study in anticipation mixed with doubt. She held her silence.
The gondola ran smoothly despite the fine cold mist, damp but not yet cold enough to freeze, to snow.
We were early.
Reaching the Green Gate of Christmastown, we saw it was actually the doors to what looked like a small green shed. The doors opened inward as the gondola pushed them and we saw Santa, all in white, with red silk scarf and white fur robe. He reached down and picked up a small green bag, the top of a present just peeking out, and in one fluid motion placed it in our gondola as we rode by. I realized as we passed that he, too, was activated by the presence of the gondola car. My daughter placed her present at her feet and huddled against the cold. The car reached the back of the shed and exited by a final door, back into the cold night.
As we looked back, she waved a goodbye to the animatronic Santa, who had followed us out. He raised one hand in a farewell. The look on his face was a testament to his manufacturing, a look that spoke of the ages he’d been there, the millions of times he’d performed his flawless function, the countless presents, the children. Any machine built to last that long develops a sense of identity, an empathy for those it serves, and those it serves with. As our gondola passed from his sight, I glanced again at the silent girl beside me. Huddling against the wet and cold, she shivered and smiled, despite the damp, despite her doubt, delighted that after all this time there was still a present for her. It came to me why I’d seen that look on the Santa’s face, the combination of determination and recognition, looking not at her but at me, and knowing like-to-like. I understood now why we had called him Father Christmas, the Pater figure bringing home presents to his children, to all of us.
I never did find out what was in the green bag at my daughter’s feet. After all, it wasn’t for me.
My present was her smile.