Here's a new, edited, and improved version of a Christmas story I wrote a few years ago. Merry Christmas!
My four-year old daughter tugged at my sleeve and pointed. “Look Dad. It’s Santa!” she whispered.
I looked up from serving soup in the homeless shelter and saw an old man with a bushy white beard holding a soup bowl. Except for the tattered army jacket and his unkempt appearance, he did look just like jolly old Saint Nicholas, minus the jolly part.
I smiled and filled his bowl with hot soup. “Did anybody ever tell that you look exactly like – ”
“Santa Claus?” His face was blank. No jolly laugh. No twinkling eyes. No ho, ho, ho. “Yes, because I am Santa Claus.” He stared back at me in a way that made feel transparent.
I glanced down at my daughter and saw her chewing at her bottom lip. “Don’t worry,” I said trying to comfort her. “He’s not the real Santa. The real Santa lives at the North Pole and is a jolly old elf.”
The old man stared at me with the same deadpan look. “Ho, Ho, Ho,” he said as he took his soup and moved on. I continued to serve soup to the others, but couldn’t take my eyes, or mind, off of the Santa look-alike as he sat by himself and ate his soup. When I finished serving, I sought him out.
“Feel better after the soup?” I asked.
“Like a bowl full of jelly.” He stared at me with that same blank expression.
I fidgeted in my seat wishing that maybe I hadn’t initiated this conversation. “You know, I am sorry that life has been hard to 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 chuckled. “I know you look like Santa, but – ”
“Santa Claus is just a fictional character to bring magic to Christmas,” he said. His voice had changed and I could tell that he was mocking me, along with everyone else who makes that statement. He pointed his finger at me and continued. “You see, you don’t even believe in me, and yet you lecture me on not bursting your little girl’s bubble?”
My face flushed and I looked away.
“Most people don’t believe anything they can’t see or touch anymore,” he said. “How can you believe in the miraculous birth of the Son of God when 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.” I stood and walked away with my tail between my legs.
Over the next few days the conversation with the homeless Santa troubled me. What should I do? How could I help? He was right, I didn’t believe in Santa, but I did believe in helping my neighbor. So when my boss asked for Christmas party suggestions, 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, help him find some temporary housing, and a buy him few Christmas presents. In return he could come play Santa at our company party. Everyone loved the idea.
I spoke with the director of the homeless shelter and made all the arrangements. Everyone contributed generously and the company matched our efforts. We got him new clothes, shoes and a winter coat. We found a small private shelter and paid for three months rent. We bought a month’s worth of food and stocked his shelves. We were all excited about helping him as the day of the Christmas party arrived.
It was a wonderful party. Homeless Santa had ditched the tattered army jacket and cleaned up his beard. He came dressed for the part with the traditional red suit, black boots, and bag full of toys. He was the life of the party as 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. By the end of the night, we all believed in Santa Claus.
As the party finished and we gave him our gifts, he cried openly at our generosity. We joined him, but they were tears of joy. Everyone called it the best Christmas party ever.
That Christmas Eve, my daughter and I put out milk and cookies for Santa and waited together by the fire in my big leather chair. Of course, we both fell asleep long before the clock struck midnight, and missed our chance to see the jolly old elf. But the next morning the cookies and 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.)