I have never believed in Santa Claus. Eleven months out of the year, this is a non-issue. Yet come December an unsettling feeling comes over me that perhaps, just maybe, I might have missed out on something special during my childhood. This strange sensation flares up quite a bit during Christmastime – while watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or merely cruising the mall – but grows to a crescendo whenever I catch a glimpse of how excited the kiddies get if someone utters the name Saint Nick.

So the other day I was doing my thang and volunteering with that very rad organization Reading to Kids. Per usual I was going to read to the kindergarteners (my apologies to the six and above crowd, but you’re not nearly as much fun) and was expecting to carry out the same drill: read, craft time, the end. However, it being the holiday season, Reading to Kids decided to bring in Santa as a surprise for the little ones and to spread some holiday cheer. Well… it was supposed to be a surprise, but word gets around quick when it involves the big man with a belly like a bowl full of jelly.

Sworn to secrecy, we grownups were told that Saint Nick would be making his appearance during reading time, and one little girl in my group was only too eager to meet him. While the other kids could be easily distracted by counting the number of snowflakes on each page – appropriately enough this month’s book was about winter – this little munchkin would periodically lean into my ear and whisper, “Is he coming?” to which I would reply, “Shhh… It’s a secret.” She then would nod knowingly, a Cheshire grin stretched across her dimpled face.

But no Santa.

We finished up the book and moved on to craft time. FYI: When it comes to five-year-olds and crafts, save yourself a world of frustration and let them do whatever the hell they want. The theme for the month is magic, but they want to draw a dinosaur? Great! You were super stoked for them make hand turkeys, but they’d rather do a portrait of Buzz Lightyear? Fantastic. So while our tykes were busting out their best double rainbows and renditions of Optimus Prime, we all waited for Santa to show, and no one was more excited for his arrival than my little munchkin. Every so often, we could hear bells jingling outside; each time that little girl would look up from her drawing, eyes wide with anticipation, and stare at the empty doorway. Disappointed, she would inevitably turn to me, her face a question mark. I would then reassure her with a smile and softly say, “It’s okay. He’s on his way.”

Minutes later, I was so totally absorbed in my Frosty the Snowman masterpiece that I failed to notice Saint Nick finally entering our classroom. It wasn’t his jingle bells or hearty “ho, ho, ho!” that got my attention, but the pitiful wailing of munchkin. I was shocked. What had happened? Was she on the naughty list? Had Santa smacked her around or something? I looked to Saint Nick who simply shrugged his shoulders in bewilderment. I then scanned the rest of the children. I could see the wheels turning; if munchkin was crying, they naturally assumed there must be a good reason for it and were about to follow suit. I had to act quickly.

I rushed over to the little girl’s side, swept her up into my arms and retreated to a corner of the classroom while my partner desperately tried to redirect the children’s attention back to Santa. We were on the verge of a kid catastrophe, but thankfully Kris Kringle knew how to get the situation back under control. “What do you boys and girls want for Christmas?” Immediately they were too preoccupied with their demands to worry about munchkin anymore.

Apparently the reality of Santa versus the idea of him was just too much for her to handle. I wasn’t surprised. He’s huge. He’s loud. He wants you to sit on his lap and then promises to sneak into your house in the middle of the night while you’re asleep. Yeah, I would say that’s sufficient grounds for a breakdown. This little girl didn’t trust Santa any further than she could throw him, and though I managed to quell her tears, she gripped me like her life depended on it until Saint Nick exited the room.

At last it was time to wrap up, and we headed back to the auditorium. While waiting for their parents to arrive, the children were encouraged to sing a few holiday jingles. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw the red suit. Uh oh. Santa was back. I immediately turned around in my seat to see if munchkin had noticed; she was already crawling over her little buddies to get to me. Promptly positioning herself in my lap, she pulled my arms around her as a physical barrier and stared down Santa until he finally waved goodbye and left for good.

Maybe I didn’t miss out on much after all.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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