The costume fit well enough, although the beard told some getting used to...but the looks on the kids' faces made it worth it. They had a special place set up for me, with a chair and backdrop, and I got to listen to their wish lists. My boy, for his part, thought it was cool that Santa kinda looked like his dad. Basically, it was a blast. It's what happened afterwards that has me writing this.
After about an hour with the kids, I said my goodbyes and walked up the road to my car. Along the way, I saw a couple with their daughter, about 7 or 8 years old, getting out of their car going in their house when they saw me. The little girl had the typical reaction to seeing Santa in her neighborhood (I was still in full costume) and I figured, why not, and walked over. The parents smiled as they took the girl's hand and met me half way. It went well, I asked her what her name was, admired their outdoor decor, but I noticed that she seemed a bit...not timid but hesitant. And, I asked the natural question of what she'd like for Christmas. And proceeded to step on a landmine.
She wanted her older sister, who had died earlier this year, back for Christmas. Cue the quite understandable and justified tears. I was utterly gobsmacked.
The father explained that her sister, who was a few years older, had died after a long illness that I will not detail here. It took me a minute to recover, but I knew i couldn't just leave this hanging, and went into full Santa mode. I knelt down before the girl and took her hands in mine, and swallowed the lump in my throat as I said what needed to be said...there are some things even Santa can't do.
She nodded, and through her tears told me that her parents had told her the same thing, and she did know that, but had to say her wish. At this point, I was doing my best not to look at the parents, who were tearing up themselves, cause I knew I'd start myself, so I focused on the girl in front of me.
I told her that there was nothing wrong with that wish, that I totally understood, and would be wishing the same thing. What I could do, I told her, was say a prayer for her sister, and for all of them, later on that night. She gave me a small smile and nodded, and gave me a hug. I shook hands with the parents and offered my condolences, and said goodbye as they went into the house. I went to my car once they were out of sight and drove off, taking off the wig and beard and hat as I drove, wiping away my own tears.
It hit me later on that night, we commonly call people who want nothing to do with the holiday as Scrooges, but I wonder if there's more to the story for some of them. This is a time of year for people to be thankful for what they have, but maybe, for some people, it's a reminder of what they've lost. Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to judge. And as we count our own blessings, perhaps we should offer a prayer, or at least a kind thought, to those people.
Oh, and for the record, I would totally do this again next year. Merry Christmas, everyone.
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