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Christmas & Santa Pic Stories!
By Keith John Paul Horcasitas   

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Christmas childhood memories, including taking pics with Santa. Deeper meanings of the Holy-Days.

Walking through the Mall of Louisiana on Black Friday afternoon was fun – sure it was bustling and crowded with many shoppers searching for bargains, but it looks like the Baton Rouge economy must be picking up, as I saw many hands filled with packages in imitation of Santa's gift giving wonders. It was relaxing just to get some coffee, sit down in the food court area with my pen and journal book (which I prefer to use over laptops), do some people watching and consider some of my own Santa duties.

Later, I strolled past many of the kiosks on the ground level that always have such neat toys like the remote controlled helicopters, and I wished that they still had the mini-aquariums ("Aqua Babies") like we got there once and enjoyed so much, but unfortunately I could not find them. The tiny fish habitat was easy to take care of and really neat, as the kids loved feeding the fish with a tooth pick through a little hole on the top.

Next, as I took a promenade to the Center Court and delightedly watched children and their parents anxiously awaiting their turn to sit on Santa's lap, I fondly recalled all the pictures with Santa that my late mother had given to me before she died in 2006. Almost all of the pics of me with the jolly St. Nick depicts me as having a tantrum! While I know I disdained those moments so much back then, I get such a laugh with our kids looking at them – I'm sure I'll be posting one of them on Facebook this year!

Helen and David used to always tease this younger brother of theirs about how much of a cry baby I was every year when we got our Christmas pic taken with Santa – at the ole Maison Blanche (MB) on Canal Street in New Orleans. And every year, as was our tradition, it was so neat to go downtown to see the large paper mache snowman-like flying figure of Mr. Bingle hanging outside MB; who can forget that old tune about him that you would hear chimed all around the store ?

Jingle, jangle, jingle/Here comes Mr. Bingle/With another message from Kris Kringle/
Time to launch your Christmas season/Maison Blanche makes Christmas pleasin'/
Gifts galore for you to see/Each a gem from MB!

While I may have certainly been joyful and at ease with “window's shopping,” in the old pre-computer days, and enjoyed the wonderful Christmas decor on the old MB building, I used to get in trepidation when approaching the famous one from the North Pole. I'm not sure why this would happen since I knew that he was responsible for so many great gifts that I'd received.

As I grew older, I became less frightened of Santa and had fun emulating him by trying to give presents to as many people as I could like Santa does. Back then I saved up all money from chores, grass cutting and other sources to shop at a local (now closed) K & B Drug Drugstore, where I could get all of the new “Ronco” like devices for family and friends.

I'll never forget the card shuffler that I got once for my brother. Helen, my oldest sibling, would usually get some kind of girly stuff like perfume. Daddy almost always had 7 or more white ceramic bottles of Old Spice cologne stored that we would get for him for his birthdays, Father's Day and Christmas! Mom would usually get the traditional “Whitman's Sampler” of assorted chocolates from me – in that classic tan colored box!

Another Santa like figure that I grew up with in New Orleans and used to see and enjoy as an adult every week on television per editorials was the late Phil Johnson, a New Orleans broadcasting legend; he died early last year. He was a former WWL-TV news director, documentary writer/producer and assistant general manager who had a figure and beard like Santa.

Phil would always end his practical and easy to understand editorial messages with a polite, “Good Evening,” and then sign his name to the message. I got to really appreciate another side of Santa per Phil's yearly recounting of the classic O'Henry short story, "The Gift of the Magi.".

Year after year, I would be glued to the tv - long before video recorders, dvds, etc. - and cherish the provocative description of love between Della and Jim; the former sold her prized long hair to buy her husband a watch chain, and the latter sold his special inherited watch to buy her elegant combs for her knee-length hair. This still brings goose bumps to me as I reflect on this simple metaphor for the true reason of giving and receiving at Christmas.

So thank you, St. Nicholas, for showing us the cheerful way
To be more sharing with God's blessings to all, we surely pray
Whether we're children and dreaming of all kinds of new toys
Or grownups and playing Santa while no longer girls and boys

May we give out the gifts that we're blessed to surely know
And not hold them so tightly that we're stifled and can't grow
Will there be any room at my inn for the Lord
or will I turn Him away by what I have stored?   

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