Nine years ago this morning, I found my favorite gift in the front lawn. I laid awake half the night, tossing and turning and checking the alarm clock with a giddiness rivaling a kid a third my age.
It's a well known fact at my house that my husband is an amazing gift giver--his thoughtful gifts in carefully wrapped packages are offerings I treasure. However, on this particular Christmas, the item for which I was waiting wasn't something he was able to give. The delivery came in the form of the newspaper, in which was printed my very first published piece of writing.
A couple weeks earlier, I had been notified that I had placed second in the paper's annual essay writing contest and that in addition to a modest cash prize, my essay would appear in the Christmas edition of the newspaper. Humble though the accomplishment was, it served as validation that a decision I had made months earlier to devote myself to the harsh realities of a writer's life may not have been for naught; that perhaps I could make a go of it. Indeed, it was the beginning of a long relationship between myself and our local daily, although I had no way of knowing it as I tiptoed through the wet grass that Christmas morning. All I knew was that my words were being delivered to well over a hundred thousand doorsteps--my words! It was a feeling that a gift box could never contain.
Nine years later, circulation is nowhere near the six digit figures of those days--in fact, today marks the first time the paper has ever failed to be printed--they took today completely off. A lagging economy ended what turned out to be an eight year stint with the paper last year. But nine years later, I haven't forgotten that heady rush of seeing my byline.
So today, I will share the text of that first essay, cheesy theme (what would you do if you were Santa for a day?) and all, in celebration of remembered gifts and cherished dreams.
Heart of the Holidays contest--December 25, 2000
If I Were Santa
Santa – the single word ignites images and memories of the dearest and most cherished variety. To a young child, the word is the representation of hope in its purest form as elusive wishes are whispered, shyly at first, but with an unwavering confidence between the fibers of a silky white beard. A young parent, hopeful to keep the dream alive just one more year, penciling a simple “thanks’ on a crayon scrawled note by a plate of cookies. For those whose youth has long since faded, the remembrances are bittersweet with nostalgia for all that perhaps was, or should have been.
Close your eyes…can you hear the distant sound of sleigh bells, the crunch of newly fallen snow under sleigh runners and hoofed feet? Can you feel the softness of the plush red stocking slip across your fingers as you hang it on your bedpost? Can you smell the freshly baked cookies, can you taste the one that will be left on a plate, in unquestioning confidence by the smallest of hands? Can you resist the urge to smile at the mental images the name evokes? What if? What if the power to bestow joy and delight on such a large scale to young and old, rich and poor, strangers and those held most dear—what if I, a very ordinary, everyday woman—could embody that magical, mythical power? What would I do if I were the dream giver?
What if I were responsible for a rare smile on a young and far away face, a face so ethnically different from my own, a face that has seen poverty, war and grief? What if I could somehow touch that life, bring a moment of bliss, of unexpected anticipation in a colorfully wrapped box?
What if I could brighten the face of my irritable neighbor, and for one, brief moment watch her harsh and hardened features soften in a childish delight as an unforeseen surprise stops her in her tracks?
What if I could momentarily bring laughter to a drab and cheerless retirement home, where hope has been all but completely forgotten? How would I feel? Would I, could I, ever be the same?
As Santa, I would be able to offer hope where it did not exist before, to deliver kindness where it was undeserved, to alleviate the sting of loneliness. One by one, I could touch lives in unexpected and welcome ways, and little by little I could change my world-- if I were Santa, with the inexhaustible resources of the North Pole at my disposal. If I were Santa, joy to the world and peace on earth would seem more like reality than the intangible words of a Christmas carol.
I wonder, though, is an impossibly speedy sleigh and eight tiny reindeer absolutely necessary to bring happiness halfway around the world or just the vision to deliver that same smile by sponsoring a child through a humanitarian organization, or stuffing a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child?
Do I really need an overstuffed sack of goodies to surprise my unpleasant neighbor, or just the courage that it would take to cross her yard by the cover of a Christmas night to adorn an outdoor pine or bush with candy canes?
Is a workshop with little elves completely essential to have before I bring warmth and laughter and freshly baked cookies to a nursing home or hospital? Or would my goals be more closely observed if I ate the cookies myself, so as to better fill an oversized red suit?
In the end, “what if’s” are nothing but unrealized dreams: wishes that can only satisfy once they have blossomed into the greater hope they offer. I don’t ever have to wonder what it would be like to become Santa, and bestow the love and joy his image represents. Being Santa is a choice I can make when I live by the words of the One in the manger, the One whose gifts Santa really delivers. In loving my neighbor, I hold the only hope any of us truly has for peace on earth. For in living by those words, I can be Santa, and not just on just one, solitary magical day. I can be Santa any day I choose.