One Christmas season as a kid, I took it on myself to contain a terrible secret, as though I was sparing the world from ever finding out. But the moment of truth was coming.
A thing to do during the season was to take a family ride up Canal Street, first passing the Centenni house in Mid-City, a mansion known for its display of lights and remembered most notably for a Santa figure riding an animated life-sized plastic elephant. Then the ride would continue toward the business district. This is where I cringed because each night Santa himself would be sitting on the balcony of the D.H. Holmes department store waving to his global constituency. But I was dealing with the harsh reality: someone, and I don’t remember who, but it might have been another kid in the school yard, told me that Santa had been shot. Put bluntly, there had been a pistol at the Pole. Yet, as I slowly glanced toward the balcony I was thrilled, because Clause was there looking fully fit. And if there were any blood stains on his red coat it was impossible to tell. Somehow the news about the attempted Santacide had escaped the world’s press and was known only to my informant. The Arctic’s first responders must have acted quickly.
With the trauma put aside, I could better appreciate the next stop, which was at the hotel then known as the Roosevelt, which would be changed to the Fairmont and then eventually back to the Roosevelt. The block-long lobby that stretched between the hotel’s entrances at University Place and Baronne was converted into a winter wonderland, with a fluffy canopy of show-like cotton lining the ceiling. For New Orleanians, walking through the Roosevelt lobby was our White Christmas.
From there, the journey continued down Baronne Street, past the Jesuit church, towards the Sears department store, where a five-stories-high plywood Santa, carrying a package labeled “from Sears,” fronted the building. Now, it was contrary to all that we had been taught that Claus’ stash actually came from Sears, but back then it might have been believable, especially for kids who wanted washers and dryers.
That building still stands, now as a hotel, but the plywood St. Nick is long gone. The schoolyard gossiper had it wrong: Neither Sears nor D.H. Holmes would survive, but Santa lives.
Just be careful about what people tell you.