Harry Paidas: Holidays inspire vivid memories


There are a lot of reasons to love the holiday season.

It has always amazed me how different and friendlier the world is from Thanksgiving to the end of the year. As a kid growing up in the 50s and 60s, my countdown started on the Monday after Thanksgiving and ended on the last day of school before Christmas, which varied depending on the calendar.

This countdown was not in days, it was in hours. I still have a notebook from one of those years to prove it. But Christmas at our house was not typical for most children in Warren, Ohio.

For our family, approaching Christmas was preparing for the three night, 1,250 mile trip to Miami Beach, Florida. It was at a time when the only four-lane highways were the Pennsylvania Turnpike and part of what is now the Florida Turnpike. In between were hilly, two-lane, often slippery roads.

Why, Miami Beach at Christmas? Long story, but to get right to the point, my grandfather owned a motel on Collins Avenue in Sunny Isles, about 12 miles north of what is now known as South Beach, right across the ocean. Atlantic. The motel was called the Bimini Bay, which served as our family’s second home for a few decades. Due to my father’s and my brother’s and school’s work schedule, we usually made the trip over Christmas.

I was too young to remember the first time we went to Florida, but I have fond memories of many times after that.

It was during those years that I struggled with the existence of Santa Claus. My parents did a great job convincing me that Santa Claus was the real deal. Not only that, but I was convinced the real Santa Claus was sitting in the Mahoning Avenue log cabin in Warren and all the other guys dressed as Santa everywhere else were his helpers.

Despite the attempts of an older child who came to play every now and then to convince me otherwise, I had long believed in Santa Claus. After all, it was the same kid who was trying to tell me babies were made when men and women got together and… whatever, you couldn’t believe it.

So, one of those years when I was battling the wonders of Santa Claus, I asked my mom how he was going to find me so that he could leave Christmas presents in room 112 at Bimini Bay. She assured me he would find me and of course when I woke up on Christmas morning he brought me what I asked for.

With each passing year, however, the story of Santa Claus has started to unravel. A sleigh with flying reindeer, especially in Florida? Doubtful. Santa Claus entering houses through chimneys (as obese as he was)? False news. A handwritten note where the cookies and milk were left? The handwriting was very similar to my brother’s. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, I clung to hope, and quite frankly, no one told me otherwise.

Fast forward to 2021. Two weeks before Christmas I was sitting with my 3 year old grandson in his family room admiring the stockings that hung by the fireplace. I asked him if he was ready for Santa Claus to come on Christmas Eve. He said he was. The ensuing conversation went as follows:

Pappou (it’s me; Greek for grandfather): “So, Jack, do you think Santa Claus is going to pass through the fireplace with your presents so that he can put them under the tree? ”

Jack: “Is that how he’s gonna get in?”

Pappou: “Well, that’s how he gets into most houses.”

Jack: “Why doesn’t he use a door?” ”

Pappou: “Good question; For overly thin chimneys, I think he uses the door.

Jack: “Pappou, do Santa’s reindeer really fly?” Where does he park his sled? How can he eat all the cookies the children leave for him?

Pappou: “I think I hear your sister cry. I’ll be right back.”

During this brief conversation, I realized that the story of Santa Claus just didn’t make sense, even for a 3 year old. The fact that I’ve held onto it for as long as a youngster talks to my parents about being good spinmeisters coupled with my desire for it to be true.

We can probably all remember that moment when the story of Santa Claus started to fall apart for all of us.

Yet even though the story of Santa Claus is fabricated, the concepts of kindness and generosity endure. Santa has remarkable stamina because we remember him in our youth and he returns to play with our children and grandchildren. There are those who prefer to bypass the Santa Claus scene entirely, which is certainly understandable.

I should note that at the same time that my parents were playing Santa Claus game with me, they were also instilling in me the true meaning of Christmas. The church was at the heart of our Christmas celebrations, and I still remember the wonderful Christmas Eve services at the Hagia Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in Miami. In our family, there was room for both – the marketing of Christmas compliments from Saint Nicholas aka Santa Claus, and the real meaning of Christmas – the birth of Jesus Christ.

As mentioned in the lead, there are many reasons to love the holidays and everyone has memories. Thank you for allowing me to share mine. Merry Christmas to everyone.

Harry Paidas is Professor Emeritus at Mount Union and writes a monthly column for The Review. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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