X-Files: Santa Claus Edition

With the holidays right around the corner, I thought it was fitting to tell everyone about my favorite childhood memory - the time I met Santa Claus. 

No, it's not the creepy man who’s lap every child pees on at the mall. I truly mean Santa Claus. At the end of this story, I guarantee you'll be questioning your entire existence. 

On an early Saturday morning in February 2003, it was a beautiful day in South Florida. My parents decided it was too nice of a day to waste sitting around the house so they called my uncle, and in less than one hour later, we were on our way to spend the day at Everglades National Park.

We spent the entire day exploring the park, hiking trails, enjoying nature and observing all the alligators walking among us. When it was time to leave, we piled into the cars, tired from a long day outdoors. It was starting to get late and everyone was starving, so my family decided it was a good idea if we stopped for dinner before attempting the drive home with four little kids. 

Now, for those of you who have never been to the Everglades, a McDonalds is strategically located on the right hand side of US Route 1 just before the freeway on ramp. My parents determined this was a good place to stop, but little did we know what would happen next.

As we all made our way to the parking lot, we saw a man sitting at a picnic table in front of the restaurant, eating and talking with a group of people at his table. He was a large, older man, slightly balding on top with white hair, a white mustache and a long flowing white beard. He had a pair of gold wire rim glasses perched on his nose and was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, a pair of khaki shorts and leather sandals.

As soon as we saw him, our faces were instantly glued to the car’s back windows, as we were banging on them and furiously shouting, “Hi, Santa Claus!” Our parents were laughing at us and told us to settle down. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally parked and my brother, cousins and I couldn't get out of the cars fast enough. The four of us immediately ran towards the man, waving frantically saying, “Hi, Santa Claus!” He didn’t even acknowledge us. Our parents herded us into the building, where we ran as fast as we could to the front window and jumped up and down desperately trying to get this man's attention, yelling “Hi, Santa Claus!” He ignored us, while everyone inside laughed at us. 

When everyone finished eating what seemed like the longest meal of my life, we left the restaurant, and as we crossed the parking lot toward the cars, we made one final attempt, waving and saying, “Bye, Santa Claus.” 

This time, he got up. He started walking to us, and as he got closer, my father said, “I’m sorry if they bothered you, but it’s probably pretty obvious to you who they think you are.” The man didn't even look at or respond to my father. Instead, he came right up to us, bent down and asked us if we were being good so far this year. Of course, we all answered yes. Then, he looked directly at me and said, “Bailey, I have something special, just for you.” My dad and uncle looked at each other, confused, because no one had called me by my name while going into the building. No one said my name while inside the restaurant and no one used my name while leaving the building. How did he know my name? 

I put my hand out to receive what he had for me. I smiled and stared at it as the man turned and left us without saying another word. We all stood there for a moment in disbelief, trying to process what just happened, wondering how the man knew my name. My father and my uncle asked to see what he gave me. They looked at it, looked at each other and then showed my mother and aunt. They gave it back to me and I showed it to my brother and cousins. What did he hand me on that strange night 15 years ago?

It was a 3x5 headshot of him in a Santa suit. To this day, my family loves to tell the story of our tropical encounter with Santa Claus during his vacation in South Florida. 

To this day, it still boggles my mind how this man knew my name. When I got old enough to know the story of Santa, I asked my parents about this instance  - they still can't explain it. My uncle put it best, “Kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”