Originally published on December 24, 2012
It was the morning of Christmas Eve, and once again it didn’t feel like Christmas.
It had been years since I last celebrated Christmas – but I remember it well. It was in 1983 at my parents’ place in Midland, Ontario. My family always got together to celebrate Christmas at my parent’s home – but I had missed the last couple of Christmases because I was living in Vancouver.
Dad came to the Toronto airport to pick me up – I had yet to see their new home in Midland – but I was more excited about seeing my Mom and brothers and sisters and my niece and nephew. That’s what Christmas was all about to the St. Andrews family – being together and enjoying our unique traditions.
Some of those traditions included arriving on Christmas Eve and spending the night – so we could all get up together – just like when we were all growing up at our home in Oshawa and then later in Georgetown.
At my parents home in Georgetown, my Dad had built a fantastic bar in the rec room, and he would wear a Christmas hat while he served drinks from his perch on a stool behind the bar – which he considered “sacred” ground. You NEVER went behind the bar when Dad was on duty – the words “self-serve” did not exist in his bar.
And as we arrived on Christmas Eve, the first thing you heard when you entered their house was the laughter and shouting from downstairs. A few hugs and kisses with Mom and then you would head downstairs to reunite with the clan.
Early on Christmas morning – probably no later than 6:00 AM, Dad would be the first one to awake – eager to act as Santa. We would all gather around the Christmas Tree in the family room, and Dad would give each person one gift to open – beginning with my Mom. Everyone would watch quietly as each person opened their present – and then there would be loud outbursts of “ooh’s and ahh’s.”
My brothers, sisters and I would then prepare a sumptuous breakfast for everyone – and let Mom have the day off from the kitchen. Immediately after, we would all gather at the Christmas Tree and continue to open all the gifts.
About mid-morning, Dad would announce that the bar was open. Later, Mom would bring a platter of Scotch Eggs for us to snack on.
And then about mid-afternoon, we would all gather in the dining room for a sumptuous turkey dinner.
My brother-in-law Brian – a professional photographer, would get everyone together for a family portrait – which we would later receive framed copies.
Then some of us would start to leave to go to our respective homes – which always made my Mom cry. She was happiest when she had every one of us together – as a family – and still pleaded with us – “Do you have to go so soon?”
So, on this morning of Christmas Eve, I was having a coffee and looking at one of those family portraits – and I got homesick. Homesick because I missed my Mom and Dad – and family – and those magical Christmases we shared.
And I missed not having that special feeling that I used to get every year – at Christmas.
Two years ago, I went to Costco and bought a ton of outdoor Christmas lights – and decorated all of the hedges, evergreens, and fence.
I had just finished my cancer treatments and didn’t know how many more Christmases I would be around for – and desperately hoping that the lights would bring back that special Christmas feeling.
But they didn’t.
Last week I wrote a blog about buying a complete Santa Claus outfit – so I could visit all of the patients at the Fraser Valley Cancer Centre – where I received radiation and chemotherapy treatments – and where I have been volunteering every week for the past 16 months.
But on the morning of Christmas Eve, I decided to get dressed as Santa Claus, again – and go to the Cancer Centre and Surrey Memorial Hospital for a visit.
As soon as I walked into the hospital lobby a woman ran up to me, pleading, “Oh Santa, could I get a picture with you and my Mom?” I said “Sure – Ho, Ho Ho!” The mother slowly walked up to me – she was in her patient gown and was wearing a Christmas hat.
I hugged her and was posing with her for the picture – when her daughter suddenly said: “Mom, why are you crying?”
Before the mother could answer, I squeezed her closer to me and asked her why she was crying. She stared up at me and with tears rolling down her cheek, she cried, “Because I never thought I would ever meet Santa Claus!”
I kissed her on the cheek and whispered into her ear “I will always be with you.”
I toured the Cancer Centre and then walked down the hall to the adjoining Surrey Memorial Hospital and took the elevator up to 51 North – the Oncology Floor. I had been a patient there several times during my cancer treatments – when I was at my lowest point.
I walked into each of the patients’ room and wished them all a Happy Holiday. On my way back to the elevator, I noticed a Palliative Care sign over the entrance to another wing of the floor. “This is where the very sick and terminally ill patients are,” I thought to myself.
I walked into the ward, and all of the medical staff were surprised to see Santa. After posing for several photos, I asked if it would be okay to say hello to the patients.
They replied in unison “Of course you can – you’re Santa Claus!”
I made my way around the ward; entering each of the rooms and then holding the hand of each of the patients. I didn’t know what to say but what suddenly burst out of my mouth was “I know that you’ve always believed in me, and I just wanted to drop by to say hello.”
In the last room I visited, there was a patient – an older man – who was wearing a Christmas hat. When he saw me, his eyes lit up and said that he had ‘awoken that morning excited with the hope that maybe a friend or family member might drop by for a visit. But none had – until you, Santa Claus! ‘
He held my hand for the longest time and just stared at me and then muttered: “Thank you Santa – and Merry Christmas.” I turned to leave his room – my eyes were filling with tears, and I didn’t want him to see me cry. After all, he believed in Santa Claus.
And now so do I.
UPDATE: On December 2017, I went to Surrey Memorial Hospital and visited both the palliative care and oncology wards and asked permission to visit the following week as Santa Danny. I used to visit the cancer center as Santa and would often go to the hospital, afterward. I also wanted to get permission from the Ronald McDonald House, where I used to volunteer (also located in the hospital). I had been told by the previous cancer center volunteer coordinator, that the hospital required me to get permission from each of the department heads. I also have a policy of getting an RCMP criminal background search completed every November.
Each of the department head permitted me to visit as Santa the following week, and I also called got permission from the Surrey Hospital Building Fund office to get changed into my Santa outfit there, in one of their offices.
On the day of the visit, I got changed into my Santa attire in the Ronald McDonald House and then took the elevator up to the palliative care ward. But when I stopped by the department head’s office before visiting the patients – I was shocked to learn that I wasn’t allowed to be on the premises as Santa because I hadn’t asked a specific lady’s permission!
I went back to the Ronald McDonald House and got changed. But I didn’t make it out without crying my eyes out! After trying to give back, for so long to these two organizations, it’s painful for me to say I won’t be returning to either institution. And it’s taken me until today, April 26, 2018, to write this update.
But the nursing, therapist, oncologists, and administrative staff know how much I love them, and I’ll find a way to see them in 2018! ~ Danny
Today’s Tune (from Danny’s library of purchased music):