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Chicken Soup for the Soul (It's Christmas)

Years ago when I was a young man in my twenties, I was one of Santa’s helpers. While he was busy getting his sleigh and reindeer ready for the big trip on Christmas Eve.  I helped him by dressing in Santa clothes and listening while children told me what they wanted for Christmas. I felt honored to fill in for Santa, for he doesn’t want any child to be disappointed. I never knew how he did it, but he always seemed to know the names of all the children who sat on my lap, and what toys each youngster wanted Santa to bring them on Christmas morning.

My routine was to dress up in Santa clothes, then head to a little mom and pop grocery store in Alloway, a hamlet in upstate New York. Each time someone came through the door I would shout, “Merry Christmas!” And children would wander over and look at me. I would help them climb onto my lap, then I’d ask, “What would you like for Christmas little boy/little girl?” After they told me I would give each one an orange and a candy cane, help them down and send them on their way with a loud, “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!” It was a job I loved and always looked forward to doing, until one night when I almost decided to hang up my Santa suit for good.

It was the worst night I’d ever had playing Santa. It seemed all the children wanted Santa to bring them more and more presents, rudely issuing orders. Nobody was asking nicely. And when I handed one child an orange and a candy cane, he said incredulously, “Is that all we get?” Later, another child voiced his displeasure too. It was rare for even one child to display such bad manners, let alone two on the same night.

Finally, feeling dejected my holiday joy and goodwill having taken a direct hit, I glanced at the time and stood up, locking eyes with the women who owned the store. I let out a long sigh and muttered, “Boy, am I ever glad this night is over! I stared packing up when suddenly a young mother came running through the door.

“Santa, would you please take a moment for my little girl?” I am sure my lack of enthusiasm must have showed as I mumbled, “Sure,” managing only a half-hearted smile. Silently I couldn’t help thinking, “Oh well, she will be the last one this year.”

Once again I plopped down in my chair and waited, watching as her daughter shuffled slowly towards me. It was obvious that it took great effort for her to place one foot in front of the other, but it wasn’t until I looked up that I saw, with surprise, a dazzling smile on her face. She was young, about six or seven, with pretty brown hair.

She came close and said, “Hi Santa,” and when I reached down to help her sit upon my lap I felt two hard leg braces pressing against my Santa legs.

I looked into those beautiful beaming eyes, and thus our Santa session began in the usual way. “I little girl, what would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas?”

Expecting her answer to be a doll or maybe a stuffed animal, both popular requests I heard all the time, I was totally unprepared when she said, “Anything you have left over Santa.” I gave he two more opportunities to changer her answer, but she stood her ground and said again, “Anything you have left over Santa.” Finally I told her that Santa would bring her something she would like. Answering with a smile she said. “Thank you Santa.” I returned her smile. Not a half-hearted one either, but with a grin as wide as the one she’d had—an all-the –way, across-the –face, ear –to-ear grin! I was about to help her down when suddenly she stopped me, looked me square in the eye and said, “What would you like for Christmas Santa?”

Once more I was taken by surprise, so touched was I by the aura of happiness and joy that surrounded her; seemingly unaware of the humbling impact she was having on others and on me. She was a picker-upper, an encourage, a lifter of sprits, with an unselfish penchant for putting others before yourself. I experience a cauldron of mixed emotions as I struggled to keep my composure, but a few renegade tears leaked out anyway.

Her unanswered question was left hanging in the air --- “What would like for Christmas, Santa?” How could it be that I did not have the answer for a question that I myself had asked every child that had ever sat upon my lap, over and over, night after night, and year after year?

Finally I blurted out, “Santa would like a hug,” and she wrapped her tiny arms around my neck and hugged me for what felt like an eternity. Finally she lowered her arms and I helped her down from my lap, but as she walked away, shuffling along as she had before, she would turn around every few steps, look my way and smile, saying “Merry Christmas, Santa, Merry Christmas.”
What would you like for Christmas, Santa?” In her childlike innocence she couldn’t possibly have known—and how could I ever have explained –she had already given Santa his Christmas gift.

Ed Marriott

Ed Marriott once said, “To me, Christmas is about the birth of our Lord and Savior, Christmas carols, family and friends sharing a meal, giving toys to children, food baskets; and maybe, for a few days a year, we treat each other with a little more caring, kindness and respect.” Ed passed away on 04/12/2013. He will be missed!

Today while playing Santa in the Elementary School a young boy came up to me and said, "Santa can I have a Hug."  I couldn't help but think of that wonderful hug Ed Marriott got as Santa a few years ago.


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