Overheard in the Santa line

Our boys visited the Jolly Elf at Bentleyville in Duluth this year.

Our boys visited the Jolly Elf at Bentleyville in Duluth this year.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Christmas arrives Thursday. This, after weeks of new Yuletide songs mixed by club DJs trying to pay mortgages, blinking houses and assorted efforts to render consumerism as Christ-like as possible. For those who celebrate Christmas, nothing can compete with joyous hope of the actual holiday. For everyone else, the promise of a return to normal life shines like a star upon a stable somewhere in the Middle East.

What I like best about Christmas is the fact that, even in a rapidly changing world, Christmas remains a time for families to keep and remember traditions. In a land of consumables and disposables, unique cultural traditions are often the first to go. But Christmas maintains tradition, good years and bad, amid harmony or discord. It doesn’t matter whether you’re sad or happy; you can eat a can of black olives so long as they are served in decorative bowls.

For us, one modern tradition that has begun to stuck is a December trip down to the Bentleyville Tour of Lights at Bayfront Park in downtown Duluth. There, an entire city park is bedazzled with scads of Clark Griswold-inspired lighting schemes. No, this is not an ancient tradition. It might not seem sacred. It’s certainly not very religious. But it puts us in the van together, hurtling through a dark, cold night to the shining city by the big lake.

Our boys still have business with Santa Claus on this annual escapade, so we spend most of our time at Bentleyville trudging in a serpentine formation to see Kris Kringle. The line sprawls like the laundry basket of a college student, taking anywhere from 45 minutes to this year’s hour and twenty. Further, even the sadists at the DMV have failed to replicate the element of adorable, irritable children placed in line just fifty feet from the man they believe makes dreams happen.

Though the North Pole stands 2,959 ticks from our Northern Minnesota home, the threat of Santa’s all-seeing eye is still enough to divert bad behavior around the house. Further, the boys are always model citizens when the Santa at Bentleyville, aka, the “real” Santa, is literally looking at them. But something funny happens in the line at Bentleyville. When Santa is no longer an abstract concept, but rather sits just out of sight, his power to mandate good behavior is diminished. He can’t possibly *see* us. He’s talking to some kid.

Our parental self-doubt is eased, somewhat, by the general breakdown of parent-child order across the demographic spectrum. Time spent in line allows one to observe the human condition. Here are is a sampling of the things I heard in line to see Santa this year:

“Attention Bentleyville guests, would Amy Mrrrrrhhhhhh-Haaaaaaaa please report to the Cookie House. Your party is waiting.”

“If I want an art book, I’ll buy a boooook. If I want a cook book, I’ll buy a boooook. But if I just want words to read, I don’t need the constraint of a boooook.”

“Here, you can play Candy Crush until we get to see Santa.”

“Attention Bentleyville guests, would Diane Kooooossh-Waafffff please report to the Cookie House. Your party is waiting.”

“If that lady goes into labor, she should get to go to the front of the line.” Reply: “No. No cutting.”

(From young couple who waited in line without children to Santa) “We just want a picture, OK?” (no further words spoken)


This last one, from a very busy Santa Claus upon hearing a series of gift requests from our boys representing Pokemon product descriptions that even I, their father, do not fully understand. The look from Santa said it all. “I can only do so much, dad. The rest is on you.”

We carry on the tradition. Up the hill to drink hot chocolate (coffee for the driver) and change out of our snow pants in awkward public spaces.

So it goes for our tradition. Christmas is a family holiday; however you choose to observe this or any holiday, always remember the power of tradition. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. A joyous winter of nature’s many changes to you and yours.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This post first appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


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