On a Christmas day many years ago, my cousins and I played Sega Genesis on a 13-inch television, our mothers stirred pots of sambar in the kitchen, and someone placed a Santa hat on Thatha. Our parents never expected to celebrate a Christian holiday a decade after they immigrated from India but, that year, they put up a Christmas tree to satisfy my generation’s need to be “like the other kids” in suburban Pennsylvania. To our childish minds, Thatha’s round belly, white hair, and tortoiseshell glasses made him the perfect Santa Claus. He took each present from the tree and placed the red and green wrapped packages into the eager hands of his grandchildren.
In the years since, we have dispersed throughout the country, distracted by the commitments of our own lives. Thatha is 93 now, the weight around his stomach has fallen away, and his hands shake when he writes. Yet, he continues to live as he has for the last thirty years, reading, traveling, walking, and writing. When we see him, he blesses us and reminds us that we must exercise our minds and bodies to live a long, happy life. And, at Christmas, he still dons the red fleeced hat and gives us our presents. We grandchildren know better now: he is not our Santa because of his age or his hair color. He is our Santa because his joy for life mirrors the happiness of the mythical saint we believed in as children.