A Christmas Message for Those Sore Afraid

The intimidating Santa in my kindergarten classroom whispered an important part of the Christmas message: 'Do not be afraid.'

It happened over a half century ago, but I still remember clearly the day that Santa Claus came to our kindergarten classroom. In scheduling Santa's surprise visit, the teacher must have thought it would be a treat for all of us. What stands out in my memory, though, is the fright it gave me when he came through the door shouting in a loud voice. But every year during this season, I also remember a whispered message of comfort that I received from that same Santa on that day long ago.

Our teacher had arranged for Santa to make a dramatic entry one afternoon. We were all sitting at our desks doing our typical kindergarten thing, when suddenly the door burst open, and in came a large bearded man in a red suit with white trimming. "Ho, ho, ho, boys and girls!" he bellowed. He continued to shout: "I'm here to find out who has been naughty and nice this year!" I was terrified, and knew my classmates were too.

Santa sat in a chair in front of the class. Again he spoke in what seemed to my five-year-old ears like a thundering voice: "I would like you children to take turns sitting on my lap, and I'm going to ask you questions about what you would like for Christmas this year! And I want to check to see whether you deserve to receive any presents at all! Who will be first?"


Santa scanned the room. None of us made a move. Finally, he pointed his finger straight at me. "That young man there. Come up here and sit on my lap." I was frozen to my seat, but Santa coaxed me forward. Reluctantly I made my way to his chair. Santa took hold of me with strong hands and placed me on his lap. He could not help but feel my trembling body.

Then an important thing happened. The person playing the role of Santa that day, it turned out, was a man from our church, Mr. Cooper. I knew him well, although I did not recognize him in his disguise. Sensing my fright, Santa whispered in my ear, in a gentle voice that only I could hear: "Richard! It's OK. It's me, Mr. Cooper. Don't be afraid."

As soon as I figured out what was going on, I relaxed. I was able to answer Santa's questions. His voice took on a much kinder, reassuring tone for the rest of his visit. And when it was clear that I could handle my encounter with Santa Claus, the rest of the class seemed to relax as well.

I think about that encounter with Santa every Christmas season. As I have gotten older, it's become obvious to me that he was an important bearer of the Christmas message for me that day in the kindergarten classroom. "Don't be afraid," he told me.

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