This was my fourth season as a Santa. For the last three years I've been the Santa for the local elementary school Christmas program. Santa closes out the show with an appearance, some candy canes and with a crush of some 50+ youngsters in the last hour as parents shoot pics up at the stage from the floor below. It represented some unique difficulties best discussed elsewhere.
That was the preceding two years. This year, due to weather and travel issues they postponed the elementary program and consolidated it with the high school program running them in sequence: grade school-intermission-high school. So Santa found himself as 'filler' between programs this year.
It was an ad-hoc jumble-XXXX of an affair passing out the candy and being completely surrounded by yelling little ones. Midway through the candy canes I saw her. 6 or 7 years old, dark haired, and mad as a wet hen. You could see it in her face. I pulled up short and asked her what was wrong. She said, "All I want for Christmas is my dad to be nicer to me..." What could I say or do? Given the circumstances, not much. I told her I'd say a prayer for her. It sounded lame to my own ears even as it rolled off my tongue. I finished the candy passing, did my 15 minute set, and cleared out. I looked for her as I left, but didn't see her.
And what she said, and my response gnawed at me. And I hoped and prayed I'd get a chance to do more, say more, make some kind of a positive difference with her. And two weeks later, at a late season daycare booking; my chance came.
There she was standing in front of me, just as cute as before but looking sad now rather than angry. She was the last one to come to sit on Santa's lap. I said, "I saw you at the Christmas program." And she allowed as how I had. I asked her what was wrong and why her dad was mean to her. And it just came tumbling out. He yelled at her and never apologized but she always apologized afterward when she yelled at him. That was about as much context as I could pull out of wet eyed, trembling lipped little one, I'll call 'Mary'.
I told Mary that sometimes Daddies and Mommies make mistakes too just like children do. And that some people have a very hard time saying they're sorry. And that one of the hardest lessons to learn is how to forgive someone after they've hurt our feelings. And she started to cry.
I pulled her close and whispered in her ear that she was loved. She was special and no one could take that away from her no matter what they said or how they said it. I asked her if she wanted to pray and she said yes; so we bowed our heads and said a silent prayer. When I looked up, I felt that I hadn't gotten down to it with her. She needed something more...
All the while, there's an elderly lady sitting 8 feet away on the living room couch very carefully not paying any attention (but hanging on every word) . So I pulled Mary to me for another hug and whispered to her that Santa had a secret to tell her.
I told her that she had control of her feelings, "And that nobody can make you feel anyway you don't want to feel. They can't hurt your feelings without your permission. They can yell or say something mean or hurtful to you and you can choose how to feel about it. You can say, ' Nope, I feel too good today-I'm not gonna let you hurt my feelings'. You can choose to let hurtful things just roll off you like water off a duck's back."
I looked at her again, and she smiled. Really beamed. I'd said the right thing at the right time and really reached her. I'd made a tiny positive impact in a young life. And far more importantly than how I felt, Mary had a new tool in her toolkit for the future.
That's my favorite memory of the 2013 Christmas season.