The Year Santa Claus Skipped Our House

Our children's letters to the North Pole had turned into lists of demands, so we told them Santa wouldn't be coming.

It was a magical Christmas that year long ago, when our wide-eyed, pajama-clad toddlers were captivated by their first encounter with Santa--a.k.a. my husband, Pat. Five years later we seemed to be having a less than magical Christmas. Our three oldest sons, Michael, 11, Matthew, 10, and Kevin, almost 9, were much too sophisticated to believe in Santa Claus--though they tried to keep up the pretense for their little sister, Patsy, and two younger brothers, Darin and Brady. Early in November, television commercials started promoting the latest greatest toys, and Christmas catalogues found their way to our mailbox. The children pored over the pages, coveting the toys.

What began as a simple letter to Santa soon became a long list of advertised products complete with explanations of desired features. Their wish lists sounded more like demands. Every day we were bombarded with a repetitive chorus of what they wanted for Christmas. "I want a Star Wars Millennium Falcon!" "I want a G.I. Joe action figure!" "I want a Hess truck with the motor that whirs and lights that blink!" "I want a Hess truck, too, and a doll with real tears!"

"You want, you want!" I exclaimed in frustration. "Well, we don't want to hear it anymore!" Pat and I decided we had to take drastic action to bring their focus back to the real spirit of Christmas. We gathered the children together in the kitchen, and Pat made the announcement. "Because of the way you have been behaving, Santa will not be coming to our house this year!" There was silence.

For a few moments they just stared in disbelief. Finally, in a voice sounding very close to tears, Darin asked, "You mean we aren't going to have any Christmas?"

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"Oh yes, we are going to have Christmas," we explained, "and it will be a very special Christmas. This year we're going celebrate the real meaning of Christmas, not by getting presents but by giving presents to some people who are not as fortunate as you are." Come Christmas morning, our gaily decorated tree stood in its corner, but instead of the usual presents there was only the small crèche--the stable with the tiny figures of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus--standing alone and prominent under the tree.

We went to church together, then came home and enjoyed a quiet, but festive family Christmas dinner. Then we cleared the dining room table and laid out piles of candies, dried fruits, personal-size bottles of shaving cream, lotions, colognes, and lots of bright Christmas wrapping paper and ribbons. We had contacted a nursing home and learned that there would be 26 residents on Christmas Day without any families to visit them. The director assured us that the children would be welcome.

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