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Featured Story

 

Early in its existence, Chillicothe based Horizon PCS sent one of Bill McKell's stories as a Christmas card every year to each of its Sprint PCS customers.  As the customer base grew and the cost of printing and mailing books to each subscriber became financially difficult, the company decided to distribute the final story in their series on the web.  Since it is a popular one with parents who struggle to balance the magic of Santa with a desire to be honest with their children, we have decided to keep it online for awhile.  Please remember that this story is copyrighted material.  Website visitors are hereby granted permission to print only one copy by using the Flashpaper print button below.  Printed copies of this story in book form, including the cover illustration, can be ordered online by clicking the "Books" link above.

For best viewing, use your browser scroll bar--the one at the right edge of your screen--to slide the page so the Flashpaper toolbar below is at the top of the window and then use the icons on the Flashpaper bar to find the best settings for your computer.  The icon with 4 arrows pointing inward will allow one full page to fit in the window.  Use the arrow buttons to page forward or backward or use the Flashpaper scroll bar--the one closest to the story--and not your browser scroll bar, to scroll through the story.  If your browswer does not support Flashpaper, I have included the story in text (without formatting) below.  I hope you have a good time Searching for Santa Claus.

 

 

 

 

 

Searching

for

Santa Claus

 

 

 

 

 

A

Christmas Story

by

Bill McKell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wish to dedicate this story to Jonathon and Karen Stout,

whose Letter to the Editor affirmed a community,

promoted foster parenting and inspired this story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2002 by Bill McKell

 

All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America . No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any method without the prior permission of the author.

 

1 st Printing   December 2002   600 Copies

 

 

 

 

Cover Illustration

Copyright 2002 by David Rogers

Used with permission.

 

 

 

 

Additional copies of Searching for Santa Claus and other stories in print and on CD can be ordered from Praises Bookstore at 740-772-4737 or online at www.billmckell.com.

 

 

Purchase Price: $2.00





 

Searching for Santa Claus

 

  “Dad?” my nine-year-old daughter, Alice, asked as she walked into my study and closed the door.

  “Yes,” I responded, looking up from my computer.

  “Can I ask you a question?”

  I was right in the middle of a project, but I could tell by the look on her face that there was something serious on her mind.

  “Sure,” I replied. I saved my work and walked around to sit in one of the overstuffed armchairs positioned between my desk and the door. Alice closed the door and sat down in the other. “What's your question?”

  She hesitated a moment before speaking.

  “Is there a Santa Claus?”

  Her question didn't catch me completely off guard. I had been expecting it. In fact, the topic had come up last year as we walked our lane after school. Some of the sixth grade girls had been making fun of the little girls on the bus. Alice , upset by the teasing, just blurted it out in front of her younger sisters. Fortunately, her question practically answered itself: “Santa is real, isn't he?”

  But this time was different. This wasn't a quick question on the way home from school—it was almost bedtime. And she had closed the door behind her as if she knew the answer was something the other girls weren't supposed to hear.

  “What brought this up?” I asked.

  “I was just wondering.”

  “Did you hear someone talking at school?”

  “Sort of.”

  “What do you mean, ‘sort of'?”

  “Not today. But I do hear it at school all the time. None of my friends believe in Santa Claus. They all say he's make-believe. They say that your mom and dad are the ones who leave the presents on Christmas Eve.”

  “What do you think?” I asked.

  This was the key question. When I asked this question last year, she answered with a convincing “yes” and the conversation was over. But I sensed that it was going to be different this time.

  “I don't know.” I waited for a moment to see if she'd go on. She did. “How could he get everywhere in the world in just one night?” I waited again, but this time she didn't continue.

  “Magic?” I asked hopefully.

  “Dad,” she said with a condescending tone and an exasperated look. “Magic is just in books.” But then her tone turned hopeful. “Isn't it?”

  “Well, a lot of things happen in this world that are pretty hard to explain. Some might call them magic. I prefer to call them miracles.”

  “So, Santa's real?” she asked. “I want him to be real. But every time I say he is, my friends make fun of me. That's why I wanted to ask you. I know you'll tell me the truth.”

  Ouch. As she looked up at me with those innocent eyes, I recalled a conversation I once had with a friend of mine who serves as the youth director at a local church. He's not a big fan of Santa Claus. He sees promotion of the “Santa myth” as lying to children. He believes our children, once they realize Santa isn't real, will doubt the truth we share about God. They will see God as just another myth parents use to coax good behavior.

  But I've tried not to “lie” to my kids about Santa. When they talk about sleighs and reindeer and sliding down chimneys, I support it as a story but not necessarily as reality. I say things like “legend has it…” or “that's how they say he gets from place to place.”

  As a storyteller I'm often asked, “Is that story true?” The answer is, “Yes.” My non-fiction stories are true because they are factual. They describe life as it really is. But my fiction stories are also true—in the same way a faithful friend is true. They are reliable and trustworthy. Just as a true friend brings out the best in a person, these stories portray life as it ought to be. They take something that could be and make it real.

  We spend a lot of time with stories in our house. As I've watched my children grow, I've come to realize that the ability to differentiate between stories and reality evolves over time. When Alice was little, all stories were real—the Hundred Acre Wood was a real place. Over time, however, she came to realize that stuffed animals don't walk and talk. But that doesn't keep her from playing with them and giving them human characteristics. In the end, she makes Winnie the Pooh real.

  “Santa is real, Alice ,” I answered her, “but he may not be what you've always imagined him to be.”

  “Huh?”

  “Are you willing to stay up late on Christmas Eve?” I asked.

  “Sure,” she said, excitedly.

  “If you'll stay up late with me on Christmas Eve, I'll let you see for yourself.”

  “Really?”

  “But there are three things I need you to do between now and then.”

  “What?”

  “First, you can't tell the other girls anything about this. On Christmas Eve, I want you to get ready for bed along with everyone else and I'll get you back up once your sisters have fallen asleep.”

  “OK.”

  “And, second, no more Santa Claus questions until the girls have gone to sleep on Christmas Eve.”

  “I can do that. What else?”

  “The third thing is a writing assignment.”

  “A writing assignment?”

  “Yes. I'd like you to pick out one kid at school who you think may not have a very good Christmas and tell me why.”

  “What does that have to do with Santa Claus?”

  “Now hold on,” I said with a smile. “You're not allowed to ask any Santa Claus questions until Christmas Eve.”

  “But…”

  “Just do the assignment. It may not have anything to do with Santa Claus. It may just be to keep you from bugging me.”

  “Dad!”

  “Or it may have lots to do with Santa Claus. You'll just have to wait and see. But you have to keep this just between the two of us. Don't tell your teacher about it and definitely don't mention it to the kid you choose. Take a look around your class and bring it to me as soon as you get it done.”

  “OK.”

 

   Alice loves to write so I expected to receive her paper the very next day. I was surprised and perhaps a little bit disappointed when several days passed and she hadn't even mentioned it. But it hadn't slipped her mind. In fact, she had taken her time because she wanted to pick just the right person.

 

 

Jacinda Jamison

 

Jacinda usually wares the same clothes all the time. I don't think her family will have a good Christmas this year. I do think that they're poor. She get's in troble at school sometimes. She isn't that good at reading yet. She dosen't look like her family has much money. That's why I think she will not have a good Christmas.

 

 

  At the bottom of the page Alice drew a picture of Jacinda's family around a Christmas tree with only a few presents.

 

  I was impressed with Alice 's choice. My wife, Maggie, and I first learned about Jacinda when we went to school for our parent-teacher conference. Mrs. Jacobs mentioned that Alice had taken Jacinda under her wing—something kind-hearted Alice does every year. Jacinda is a foster child. Her foster family had moved into a tiny house near the school just a few weeks before and they were struggling. They had been living on unemployment and the stipend they received for fostering Jacinda and her little brother. In fact, they took a job here because they were about to lose the children and they couldn't bear to see that happen.

  Maggie volunteers in Alice 's classroom and she had noticed Jacinda as well. Jacinda's clothes were always clean, but they were well-worn and a bit too small. Maggie told Mrs. Jacobs to be sure to let her know if there was any way we could help. Jacinda was quite a bit smaller than Alice and could easily fit into some clothes Alice had outgrown during one of her growth spurts.

  As the weeks passed, Alice invited Jacinda to her Christmas party, Maggie encouraged Jacinda's family to join us at church, and I prepared to introduce Alice to Santa.

 

  We had an enjoyable Christmas Eve. We shared an early supper and then baked homemade cinnamon rolls—a family tradition—before heading off to church. There's nothing like a late Christmas Eve service to put everyone in a subdued mood before bedtime. When we arrived home, the girls insisted on leaving out some cinnamon rolls and a glass of milk for Santa and, of course, a handful of carrots for the reindeer. Once that important task was complete, we sat down together and read the Christmas Story. We took the opportunity to carefully explain that the celebration and the presents are intended to be reminders of the joy we experience because of the wonderful gift God gave us that first Christmas.

  When we were done, Alice slipped into bed with her clothes on while her sisters were finishing up in the bathroom. It was quite late, so it didn't take long for everyone, including Alice , to fall asleep. But she woke up right away when I went to get her.

  I'm sure Alice anticipated that we were going to hide in the family room and try to catch Santa as he came down the chimney. She was understandably surprised when I asked her to put on her boots and coat.

  “Where are we going?” she asked.

  “To find Santa, of course.”

  Her eyes widened but she asked no more questions as we walked out and climbed into the car.

  After refusing to tell her exactly where we were going, I offered to tell her a story to keep her from falling asleep. I was glad she accepted.

 

  “A very long time ago—just a few hundred years after Jesus died—there lived a very kind priest named Nicholas. Father Nicholas was very well known for his love for children, for his compassion and for doing good deeds.

  “Back when Father Nicholas lived, girls, when they were about to get married, gave their husbands a gift of money called a dowry, which was used to help start their new family. Of course, not all families could afford a dowry. While Father Nicholas was serving the members of his church, he heard about three young sisters who all had suitors—serious boyfriends were called suitors in those days—but had no dowries because their family was poor and did not have enough money. So the sisters were unable to marry.

  “Father Nicholas came from a wealthy family, so he knew he could help them. But, because he was a man of God, he wanted to help them anonymously.”   

  “What does that mean?” Alice asked.

  “It means he didn't want anyone to know that he was the one doing it.

  “Anyway,” I continued, “when the first daughter was ready to get married, Father Nicholas tossed a bag of gold coins into the house while everyone was asleep. And a few months later, when the second daughter was getting ready to marry, Father Nicholas tossed another bag of gold coins into the house.

  “When it came time for the third daughter to get married, her father was determined to find out which of his neighbors had been so generous. But Nicholas knew the man was watching, so he climbed up on the roof and dropped the third bag of coins down the chimney. It just so happened, however, that the girl's stockings had been hanging next to the fireplace to dry and the bag of coins fell right into one of them, knocking it to the floor. When the father saw what had happened, he ran outside and caught Father Nicholas before he could climb off the roof. The priest begged the man to keep his secret but, of course, the news got out. From then on, whenever something good happened to someone and no one knew who did it , they thanked Nicholas.”

  “That sounds sort of like Santa Claus,” Alice surmised.

  “Well, it was Santa Claus,” I explained. “Father Nicholas became Bishop Nicholas. And after he died, the church eventually declared him a saint and his name became Saint Nicholas.”

  “That's what some people call Santa Claus!”

  “Exactly. Saint Nicholas became a legend. He got the credit every time someone did something good anonymously. Even after he died, whenever anyone received an unexpected gift, they'd say, ‘It must have been Saint Nicholas.'

  “As the centuries passed, it became a tradition to give gifts at Christmastime to celebrate the gift God gave us when He sent His son. Many people, following the teachings of Jesus, began to give gifts anonymously, so the person receiving the gift wouldn't know who gave it. And, of course, Saint Nicholas continued to get the credit.

  “As the gift-giving tradition spread around the world, Saint Nicholas's name was translated into many different languages. In Dutch, his name was Sinterklaas. The Dutch were the people who first settled in New York and they brought the tradition of Sinterklaas with them. But as English became the dominant language in New York , Sinterklaas became Santa Claus.”

 

   Alice sat in silence as the car wound its way around the hills just outside of town. I looked back at her in the mirror, fearing that she had fallen asleep. But she was wide-awake, staring out the window.

  “What are you thinking about?” I asked.

  Her voice was a bit tearful as she replied. “You called Saint Nicholas a legend. Do you mean he's just a story?”

  “He's a story,” I said as we pulled up in front of a small house near the school. “But he's a real story.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I'll show you,” I said, as I climbed out of the car and opened her door. “But you have to be quiet.”

  We walked around to the back of the car and opened the trunk. Alice 's eyes widened when she saw that the trunk was filled with presents.

  “Where did those come from?”

  “I guess some little elf must have left them there,” I suggested.

  “Dad!” she said in an aggravated tone. But I could see the hope rise in her. “Really?”

  “They came from you.”

  “What?” she said with complete surprise.

  “Remember when we were doing Project Angel Tree with the high school kids from church, and you asked if you could help?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Well, I took the allowance money you gave me and I bought these presents.”

  “But I only gave you twenty dollars.”

  “Maybe Santa sprinkled some magic dust and multiplied it.”

  “Dad!”

  “OK, maybe I added a little bit to it.”

  “What are you going to do with the presents?” she asked.

  “I'm not going to do anything with them. You are.”

  “Huh?”

  “See that little house over there? I want you to quietly take these presents and leave them on the front porch. Be sure to put them on the side with the bushes so no one can see them from the street.”

   Alice did exactly as she was directed. It took her four trips to get all of the packages on the front porch. And it was so cute watching her tiptoe up the steps.

  I closed the trunk and climbed in the car so we were able to pull away as soon as she returned from her last trip.

  “So how do you feel?” I asked her.

  “Good.”

  “How do you think the kids in that house will feel when they find those presents in the morning?”

  “Excited.”

  “And who will they think left those presents?”

   Alice thought about it for a moment.

  “They won't know. It'll be someone anonymous,” she said, proudly testing her new vocabulary.

  “And who gets the credit when someone anonymous gives a gift at Christmas?”

  “Santa Claus!”

  “That's right. The real Saint Nicholas died centuries ago. But his God-given spirit of unselfish giving lives on in those who live like he did.”

  “You mean I'm Santa Claus?” Alice asked.

  “You made Santa real to that family, didn't you?”

  “Yeah. And they'll never know it was me.”

  “That's the way God wants it to be,” I reminded.

  “What do you mean?”

  “Well, think about that family. Imagine that the little girl who lives there is one of your classmates. If she knew it was you who gave her the gifts, how would she respond?”

  “She'd be happy and I'd become her best friend.”

  “Maybe. But it wouldn't be a real friendship, would it? You would have ‘bought' her friendship with some gifts. Of course, she might not ever be your friend if she misinterprets your compassion and just thinks you feel sorry for her. You see, if she doesn't know who gave her the gifts, she's more likely to just accept them.”

  “And I won't have to worry what she thinks.”

  “Exactly. It means you have no expectations, so you can't be disappointed. If you left your name on those presents, you'd expect that little girl to thank you. You might expect her to become your best friend. And you'd be disappointed if she didn't.

  “You see, God wants our reasons for giving to others to be pure. He wants us to give out of compassion—because we truly care about others and want things to be better for them. We should give for the pleasure of giving. Sharing our abundance should be our natural response to God's gift of love. He doesn't want us to give only when we get something back. If we do our





good deeds in secret—with no thought of getting anything in return—we can be confident that our motives aren't selfish. That way, our giving will be God-centered instead of self-centered.”

  “What does that mean?”

  “It means you don't do it so you'll look good. You do it because it pleases God.”

  “Do you think God was pleased tonight?” Alice asked.

  I looked back and smiled, “I think He is very pleased.”

 

  Christmas morning was fun. While I enjoyed watching the younger girls open their presents from Santa, I enjoyed watching Alice even more. Every time one of the girls mentioned Santa, Alice looked over at me and smiled. And every time she opened a present from Santa, she gave her mom an extra little hug. But, perhaps, best of all, Alice seemed less in a hurry to open her own presents and more interested in watching the little girls open theirs. This year, for Alice , the giving had become more important than the receiving.

 

  About a week after Christmas, I called Alice into my study. And this time I was the one who closed the door. I sat down in the chair next to her and handed her a copy of the Daily Recorder . The front page was folded back so the opinion section was on top.

  “I was just reading today's paper and thought you might want to read this letter,” I said, pointing to a letter to the editor.


Editor, the Daily Recorder:

  Our family just recently moved to Hillsdale when we were able to find work after being unemployed for almost a year. It is always a challenge to move into a new community, but it was particularly tough for us. You see, for the last two years, we have had two foster children living with us: Jacinda, 9, and Jonathon, 5. Not only did we have to get accustomed to new surroundings, we had to do so on a limited budget.

  We have been so impressed with this community—the schools, our church, the soccer league. In each case our children, despite some learning challenges and some underdevelopment, have been welcomed warmly and have been made to feel at home. We have been wonderfully surprised at the hospitality we've been shown.

  But nothing prepared us for what we experienced this Christmas. It was a difficult Christmas and we were in need of a miracle. Having been unemployed so long, we barely had money for food and clothes, let alone gifts for the kids. Before all of this happened, we had hopes of adopting our children. Now we began to believe they'd be better off with someone else.

  But, as Christmas approached, our children were befriended at school and were invited to holiday parties. Several of the parents we met through school and soccer provided us with some clothes their children had outgrown. And to top it off, our church provided us with a complete Christmas dinner.

  The generosity was over-whelming. Our needs were met and we were able to use our limited paycheck to buy a couple of small presents for each of the children. Since we couldn't afford much, we told the children on Christmas Eve not to expect a visit from Santa this year. We explained that we hadn't had time to get our new address to him. We assured them that he would make up for it next year. We suspected that Jacinda understood what was really going on, but Jonathon broke our hearts when he boldly proclaimed that Santa's magic would find us anyway. Nothing would change his mind.

  Imagine our surprise the next morning when we found that Jonathon was right and we were wrong. Before waking the children, my husband ran to the car to get a present he had hidden there. But he didn't make it to the car. Instead he walked back into the house with his arms filled with beautifully wrapped presents. He made several trips to the front porch and, by the time he was finished, the Christmas tree was surrounded by presents each addressed to one of the two children and each one signed, “From St. Nicholas, with God's blessings.” Evidently, sometime in the night, Santa had managed to find our little house after all.

  We just wanted to take this opportunity to let you know how impressed we are with the caring and giving of this community. To be on the receiving end of kindness like this was beyond any prior experience. Our entire family would like to thank everyone—especially Santa—who helped make Christmas 1997 one that none of us will ever forget. Thank you for being our miracle. May God bless you.

 

Stephen and Mary Strong

904 Buckeye St .





    

 

  “That's why you told me to write that story,” Alice said as the pieces fell into place. I had not explained to her that it was Jacinda's family she had helped on Christmas Eve. I was concerned that she might accidentally let it slip.

  “Yes,” I said. “How does it feel to be someone's miracle?”

  “But we didn't do any miracles. We just delivered some gifts.”

  “Sometimes that's all it takes. But notice that it wasn't just the gifts from Santa that made the miracle. It was the nice things you did for Jacinda at school and the nice things the community did as well. All of those things worked together to make a miracle. It wasn't magic, but it certainly was a miracle.”

  “But I was just being kind.”

  “You're right,” I replied and then added after a brief pause, “And isn't it wonderful the miracles God can create with a little bit of kindness?”

   Alice left the room with a smile on her face and a bounce in her step. And I sat back down to finish the paper. It was only then that another short letter to the editor caught my eye.

Editor, the Daily Recorder:
  I just wanted to take a moment to extend my thanks and God's blessings to those who served as elves during our Christmas foster family benefit. Great is your Reward.
Fr. Nicholas
 
777 Church St .

 

 

    Maybe it was magic after all.

 

 

                                                                                          Matthew 6:2-4

2 Corinthians 9:10-11

 
 
 

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