One of my most cherished family traditions was having Breakfast with Santa every year at the Arcadian Court Restaurant, which was on the top floor of The Bay department store. My father has always been a cheap man but he never skipped out on buying 6 tickets for this event. The breakfast was gracious, with eggs, sausage, bacon, toast and orange juice. Of course as children, we could hardly manage to finish our plates so dad would polish them off for us, and I think this was the part of the breakfast he most looked forward to.
Santa would enter with his elf and wave at all the children. He would talk to us briefly and we would all sing carols. Then we would sit on his lap, take a photo and receive a present, which I would usually re-gift for my sister. It sounds very simple but I cannot explain the imprint it has left on my memory, and the timeless feeling of togetherness at Christmas.
It became my dream job to work at that department store, mostly due in part to these fond memories that took me back to a time of innocence, and a time when my family was so fortunate to be together. Associates at the Bay remembered my mother and father for visiting that restaurant every Saturday, and sometimes they recalled me with them. I also knew that my mom and sister would often go there to chat about things that at the time, were off limits to me. After my mom passed, working in this store somehow made me feel much closer to her. Each time I walked past the restaurant on my way to the washroom, I could picture her sitting in there, waiting for Santa.
Of course I grew up, and the excitement of Breakfast with Santa each year slowly started to die down. We continued to go for my youngest brother’s sake, but as he reached 11 or 12, he started to lose interest.
One year, in my early stages as a university student, my father said he had bought 4 tickets for breakfast with Santa. I said, “Dad, I’m 18, Nick is 13, you know we don’t believe in Santa, right?”
“Of course I do, but the breakfast is such a good deal! Plus they give you free Lindor chocolates at the end.”
I knew how excited my dad got about his deals, so I called up my friend Kristen and invited her to come with us. She didn’t hesitate on the opportunity to revisit her childhood, or to eat a free breakfast.
The food was the same as I remembered, but over the years I had developed some picky eating habits so I didn’t touch much on my plate. My dad was ecstatic because he basically got to eat two breakfasts that morning. I would have eaten the eggs, except Kristen and I had a hard time picking them up with our fork. It appeared that they were made of rubber or silicone. My brother Nik had the right idea; he drowned them in ketchup until he couldn’t tell the difference. At some point during breakfast, my dad realized that the orange juice was unlimited. Our waitress was on standby, constantly refilling our glasses.
“This could be the best Breakfast with Santa yet,” my dad shouted. But he had yet to see the morning’s entertainment…
A very short teenage boy dressed as an elf, walked mundanely from the back of the restaurant to the floor where the children were gathered. His face showed no emotion as he recited in a dead, monotone voice, The Night Before Christmas. I was shocked that these children were laughing at him, clearly enjoying themselves. Every once in a while he would draw a prop from his pocket and they would screech in delight, at the mouse on a string, at the reindeer antlers. Kristen and I shared a look of disbelief. This was not amusing to us at all, in fact it was sort of terrifying.
“Is this what it’s always been like?” Kristen asked me,
“No, I swear I remember it differently… They’ll have some live music soon. That will be better, trust me.”
In the past, a great mystery to me had always been how the musicians magically appear from behind the curtain, ready to play. I used to sneak around the performance area, trying to find them, but they remained completely hidden until the show started. This time was different, and maybe it’s because I was an adult now and I was more privy to illusions, or maybe it’s because I no longer believed in magic, but on that morning, there was no mystery for me. I saw a man changing into his costume behind one of the benches, with the curtain half closed around him. I watched him throw his guitar over his shoulder and play with the amps until they were set just right. I said to my dad, “The Bay really cut back this year. I can see the singer getting ready behind that bench! The curtain used to be so much bigger,”. But my dad told me, “No, Julia. It’s always been that size. You just used to be smaller.”
I realized in that moment, that although that breakfast so far had seemed miles different to years previous, nothing had really changed save for my perspective. Even the emo looking elf wasn’t really new to me, I just used to be able to appreciate him more. Dad was right, the curtain hadn’t gotten smaller. I just grew up, and all those big, magical things no longer seemed as grand. Still I looked at my father, eating his big breakfast, enjoying it as he always had. And I remembered those words he said earlier, “This could be the best breakfast with Santa yet!”
And he was right. Despite the rubber eggs, the emo elf, the flimsy curtain, and the fact that only half of my family was there that morning, when I look upon it now, it really was the best breakfast with Santa yet…
It is very rare that life gives us chances to revisit our childhood once we have grown out of those wondering eyes, those adventurous spirits. But that morning, I went back and Breakfast with Santa was still the same.
“Someday you will be old enough, to start reading fairy tales again” C.S Lewis