This is why I still believe in Santa Claus
I’ve never had the privilege of answering a letter quite like little Virginia O’Hanlon’s. But, I know if I did, my response would be very similar to that of New York Sun editor Francis Pharcellus Church.
Because I know there is a Santa Claus. I know it with every fiber of my being.
I am frequently reminded of the tough years that hit my family during the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. That economic downturn soon became the Eschliman Family Crisis.
Ultimately, my father was laid off by his father from the family business, mere weeks before the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year holiday season. I can’t possibly imagine the pain one would feel having to tell your own flesh and blood, “Sorry, you’re going to have to look for other work.”
So, at the ripe old age of 12, I learned about the dire consequences of not having a job: we lost our home, we lost our quality of life, and I think we lost some of our dignity along the way. That’s probably why I’ve never gone more than a couple weeks without a job since.
I learned how to go dumpster diving for bread as soon as the grocery store’s back door closed after it was tossed out. I learned how to make a single can of Spam feed a family of four — twice. And, I learned how to work to take care of a family.
My father wound up taking three jobs to support us: he started his own art studio, painting murals and created stained glass artwork; he took a night-time job delivering pizzas; and, he accepted an offer to wear a certain red suit during the Christmas shopping season for the local Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber director offered a little extra if I would be willing to dress up as one of the red-clad man’s long-eared helpers. I did it — only because I wanted to help my family — but the costume was humiliating.
Football/basketball/baseball players don’t wear tights, especially bright green tights, especially when every one of his friends would be coming by every night to “wish him well.”
Finally, Christmas Eve came. I could not wait to close down so I could put that costume behind me. The crowd was light, so about 20 minutes until closing, I pretty much had everything put away.
About that time, a little girl came in. Immediately, you could tell she was in a worse situation than me. She had a coat at least one size too small, no hat, and no mittens, and the stringy locks of her dirty blonde hair couldn’t completely cover her dirt-smudged cheeks.
Dickens himself couldn’t have cast a more downtrodden characters. But this was a real human being — a child who was suffering at Christmastime.
She shyly asked if she could see the boss, so I led her up to where the man in red was sitting. They talked for almost the entire 20 minutes remaining, and then, she took off. I didn’t know it then, but apparently, she had shared her entire story with the only person she thought could make a difference.
He told me, many years later, her mother was single, and working two jobs to make ends meet. Her brother had just recently become sick, which pulled her mother away from work.
More than anything, she wanted a doll for herself and a truck for her brother, and some new clothes for her mother.
Just as we were locking up, the Chamber director stopped by with my father’s final payment. I think Dad planned on using it to buy a few last-minute gifts for my sister and I, stuff that hadn’t come in the Salvation Army gift box the night before.
But I already knew what my father had in mind before we even left the workshop. Still in our “work gear,” we made a beeline for the discount store.
We got the little girl her doll, and her little brother his truck, as well as coats, hats, and mittens for them both. We then picked out some holiday food items from the grocery store, and put the rest of the money in an envelope.
Then, the red-clad man made one early, special delivery.
I didn’t go with, so I have no idea what the reaction was. My father was only in the apartment for three or four minutes, but when he returned, he was grinning from ear to ear — you could tell, even under that fake beard of his.
The next morning, when my sister and I woke up, we ran downstairs to see what Santa had left for us under the tree. It had snowed that night, so afterward, I went outside to scoop the sidewalk. Just inside the screen door, however, was an envelope addressed to my dad with five crisp $100 bills inside.
No card, no note, no name. Near as I can tell, Santa appreciated us helping with his work.
I certainly don’t expect to be financially compensated whenever I do the right thing. But, it was definitely a learning experience I will never, ever forget.
And, every Christmas since, I’ve made sure I do something good for someone else, even if it’s just a small gesture. I hope by sharing this story, one of you is also inspired to do good for others. Because, beyond the presents, the wrapping paper, the bows, the lights, and the tinsel, giving of one’s self is really what Christmas is all about.
“For God so loved the world that he gave is one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NIV)
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