What was I thinking? This afternoon—Christmas Eve day—I found myself standing in line with hundreds of others—mostly parents and grandparents with a smattering of children—on the third floor of Macy’s Center City waiting to see Santa. Well, I didn't exactly want to see Santa myself. I wanted to see the Dickens Village that was the prelude to Santa, and then I thought it might be fun to catch a glimpse of actual children sitting on Santa’s lap. Then I realized I had a rather skewed idea of fun.
Years ago, on that very same day, I had bravely marched into Macy’s in Herald Square to pick up a last minute gift only to find myself in a sea of people so thick it was impossible to even reach the escalator on the first floor. I left without the gift, and I swore to myself I would never do that again. So what possessed me to venture back into Macy’s? I don’t know, it just seemed like a good idea at the time.
The first floor wasn't too bad, children were sitting by the eagle to watch the light show in the center of the store. The elevators weren't too crowded. Even the line for Santa, when I entered it, moved briskly past decorations and shops and promises of future wonders. Then the number of people began to increase. Ahead of me a child was crying, behind me a young person was announcing that ‘it’ was only two or three rooms ahead, beyond the red curtain. Farther back a group of teens was singing an off-key version of “Deck the Halls” with only a few words remembered. The pace had slowed down to barely a crawl, and we stood and fidgeted and waited and wound our way back and forth through the maze of rooms and barriers that had been set up to keep us in our place.
“When you get to the village, you can move at your own pace,” said the one guard who stood at the entrance to the village. I’m not sure what she thought my pace was, but if she mistook me for a snail, then she was right. We entered the village with high hopes and then realized there was no way to move any faster than the people ahead. Next to me a young woman was having an anxiety attack. “Just breathe and relax,” her mother kept saying, and I took it as good advice for myself.
The Dickens Village itself was quite wonderful. Remember all those animated windows in the department stores? Here I was in the middle of the window itself, surrounded by the characters of A Christmas Carol. It really is an odd story to wander through with ghosts and poverty and graveyards, but it came to life around me through almost life-sized dolls that moved and danced and nodded.
When I was young, my parents used to drive into the city—coming from New Jersey that meant Manhattan, of course—sometime in December to see the window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor. I was probably dressed in my new warm coat wearing a new dress and socks with flats and shivering as we marveled at the magical storied windows with just a few snow drops falling to make it perfect without interfering with the ride home.
Maybe I was trying to recreate that childhood memory if only for a moment.
Growing up Jewish, Christmas was always a challenging holiday. It wasn’t mine and yet some years we did have a Christmas tree with presents in addition to the Hanukkah Menorah and presents. And most years we drove around to see the lights—there were some very rich people with some elaborate displays in our town—for the holidays. I think I may even have sat once on Santa’s lap and I don’t think I liked it. Sitting on some strange man’s lap, a man with lots of facial hair, wasn't something I would really have wanted to do.
So I was curious today to see whether the children would like it or not.
Unfortunately there were even more lines to go see Santa, even if all you wanted to do was take a picture, and I had stood in enough lines already, so I didn't get to see Santa. Instead I took a picture of a ceramic Santa standing outside the exit and decided that would have to do.