My Evening With Mrs. Claus

     Sometimes I can hardly believe the crazy places I find myself inhabiting! It stems from my philosophy of "saying yes" and "putting oneself in the path of opportunity." That personal mantra has taken me, among other things, to the heights of the Himalayan Mountains where no inhabitants have ever seen a car, and to being forced to leap off the back of a big female elephant who felt like rolling over in the river in India! There's an element of surprise humming quietly in the background of my life. You may not be that shocked then to discover that last Saturday night my job was to be Mrs. Claus' helper. We weren't at the North Pole, but it was an extraordinary experience which I will hold close to my heart.

     It was Mission San Juan Capistrano's second year for our big opening night of the holiday spectacular "Capistrano Lights." I was the docent assigned to "Mrs. Claus." The stage was set. The staff and the volunteers were ready. The musicians had warmed up, our 35 foot tall musical tree was in perfect working order, Monsignor McKiernan was standing by to share his poem, the tamales were heating, and the lights were twinkling, as we anticipated the arrival of 2300 guests. I had a little knot of excitement in my stomach as I was not sure what being there to help Mrs. Claus actually meant. I supposed it was about crowd control. I was wrong.

     Our own Acajaman tribal member, Jaque Nunez, was volunteering her energy as Mrs. Claus. She was all made up in a white wig, night cap, Mrs. Santa red dress with a strand of lights blinking around her neck, granny glasses, and a big warm smile. As the little children began to come around, we could see that they were shy of meeting Mrs. Claus. Jaque would gently call to them, "I have been waiting just for you." Slowly they would approach and she would bring them in closer, all the while whispering encouragements. The shy little ones would soon warm up to her, while their eager parents stood back beaming their joy. I quickly understood that my role could be to record the magic that was taking place in front of us.

     "Would you like for me to take a photo of all of you with Mrs. Claus?" The cell phone cameras would immediately appear as the family members posed with their children. More smiles. Sometimes the parents would hang back, a shyness of their own resisting the moment. I would grin one more invitation, and be rewarded by their excitement to be a part this special time with their children and Mrs. Claus.

The Musical 35 Foot Christmas Tree
     As the evening moved forward Mrs. Claus' joy for each child continued, and I got a better handle on my job of recording memories. Mrs. Claus greeted and chatted with literally hundreds of children, while I snapped their photos. Even though photos with Mrs. Claus might seem insignificant in the broader scheme of life, it was a night I will remember, for the fact that it was an example of people adding value to their lives and creating happiness.

     In retrospect, I realize that it takes effort to create our own happiness, to put ourselves in the path of opportunity, and to take the risk of saying yes in life. I see that we must be actors in our own lives. We cannot wait for opportunity to find us. Last weekend was a very stormy time. It was raining on Saturday night when those families bundled their children into the car, drove to the Mission, found a parking place, and made their way into the historic landmark. They took a risk to make memories and to create cherished holiday traditions. Those hundreds of smiles told me it was worth the effort. I also think about Jaque and about myself. We could have been at home in front of our fireplaces, but we, too, were adding value to our lives by being a part something bigger, something for the community.

The Courtyard Aglow with Holiday Joy

     I think happiness does not come to us serendipitously, but is created through our actions. The holidays are a time of the year in which we can get caught up in unnecessary details, when we might succumb to feelings of being overwhelmed. Perhaps mindfulness can be applied to the season. We can ask ourselves, "does this effort add to my happiness or detract from it? With a small effort we can create our own value and only take part in activities which add joy.

     For me, spending five hours with "Mrs. Claus" and greeting hundreds of guests, personally added to my happiness. Enjoying Jaque Nunez in action fills me with admiration and wonder.

     I feel grateful to be alive. I feel grateful that both my husband and my mother have come through scary health issues this year. I think the more we can live in gratitude and mindfulness, the happier we will be.

     Capistrano Lights is open through January 6th. I invite you to bring your family and friends to enjoy our historic landmark, the beautiful ruins of the Great Stone Church, the lovely Serra Chapel, the most historically significant building in all of California and the beautiful lights.