This is a revision and reprint of a story I posted two years ago.
“Look Daddy, it’s Santa!” said my four-year old daughter. I looked up from serving soup in the homeless shelter and saw an old man with a bushy white beard holding a soup bowl.
I smiled and poured him a large scoop of hot soup. “Did anybody ever tell that you look exactly like - ”
“Santa Claus?” he said as he stroked his beard. “Yes, Because I am Santa Claus.” His face was blank. No jolly laugh. No twinkling eyes. No ho, ho, ho.
“Don’t worry,” I said to my worried daughter. “He’s not the real Santa. The real Santa lives at the North Pole and is a jolly old elf.”
“Ho, Ho, Ho,” he replied without enthusiasm. He took his soup and moved on.
I continued to serve the other homeless patrons, but couldn’t take my eyes, or mind, off of the Santa look-alike. He sat alone in the corner like a forgotten man sipping at his soup. As soon as I finished serving, I sought him out.
I slid into one the cold metal chair across from him. “Feel better after the soup?” I asked.
“Like a bowl full of jelly,” he replied without smiling.
“You know," I started, "I’m sorry that life has been hard on you, but you didn’t have to burst my little girl’s bubble. She still believes in Santa Claus.”
“Well, I am Santa Claus.”
“I know you look like Santa, but - ”
“Santa Claus is just a fictional character to help make Christmas magical,” he mocked. “You don’t even believe in Santa Claus, and yet you lecture me on not bursting your little girl’s bubble?”
My face flushed with a touch of anger, and shame.
“Most people don’t believe anything they can’t see or touch anymore,” he continued. “How can you believe in the miraculous birth of the Son of God if you can’t even believe in Santa Claus when he’s sitting right in front of you?”
“I guess you’ve got a point,” I mumbled as I stood to go. “Merry Christmas.”
Over the next few days my conversation with homeless Santa haunted me. He was right. Like everyone else in the world, I had become cynical, even hypocritical. Everything in my life had to be proven or verified. I didn’t believe in Santa Claus, yet I perpetuated the story with my daughter because I wanted to believe.
When my boss asked for volunteers to organize the office Christmas party, I got an idea. I told everyone at my office about my encounter with homeless Santa and asked if we could sponsor him. We could take up a collection to buy him new clothes, and a few Christmas presents, and he could come play Santa Claus at our company party. I spoke with the director of the homeless shelter and made all the arrangements.
Homeless Santa came to our office party dressed for the part – traditional red suit, black boots, and bag full of toys. He gladdened hearts with his rosy cheeks and his hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho!” He had a magical touch with children, and my daughter beamed as she sat on his lap.
As the party finished, we gave him our gifts. He cried openly at our generosity, and we joined him, but they were tears of joy. By the end of the night, we all believed in Santa Claus.
That Christmas Eve, my daughter put out milk and cookies for Santa before she hurried off to bed. The next morning the cookies were gone and the milk had been replaced with a note –
“Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” Thank you for believing in me!
(P.S. I moved back to the North Pole.)
This entry was posted on Friday, December 23, 2011 at Friday, December 23, 2011 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .