by Sara Etgen-Baker
It was Christmas Eve morning at our house. The Christmas lights twinkled; the tinsel glistened; the ornaments sparkled, and the Christmas tree silently awaited Santa’s arrival. I peered out the window; newly fallen snow blanketed the neighborhood streets. Barren, frost-covered trees shivered like frail skeletons trembling in the blustery winds; and silent icicles hung from shimmering housetop roofs.
The temperature outside was well below freezing. Mother wrapped me in my heaviest coat and forced my hands into last year’s mittens. We stepped outside, the gentle snow crunching under our boots as we walked to the downtown plaza where Santa was appearing.
As I stood in the plaza with other children, Christmas waved its magic wand over me. I looked up in the sky certain I heard Santa’s sleigh bells jingling. I glanced above me and realized I wasn’t hearing sleigh bells; rather, I was hearing the pole-mounted Christmas bells swaying in the wind. I continued waiting in the bone-crunching cold until I heard an unfamiliar sound; a steady but rhythmic wop-wop, wop-wop sound.
Out of nowhere, a red helicopter emerged from the overcast, wintry sky and slowly descended toward us, landing just a few feet from me. I watched in disbelief as Santa turned off the helicopter’s engine and headed straight toward me and the other children shouting, “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!”
For some reason, Santa’s unconventional arrival just didn’t seem right. When I approached Santa, I blurted, “Where’s your sleigh, Santa? Why didn’t you ride it into town?”
“Well, little lady,” he chortled, stroking his white bear, “it’s at the North Pole being repaired.”
“What’s wrong with your sleigh?” I continued.
“Oh, just some minor repairs. Nothing for you to fret about.”
“Who’s fixing it?”
“Well, uh…the magical elves, of course.”
“But..but I thought elves made toys. Will they fix your sleigh in time to deliver presents to all the boys and girls? And what about Rudolph and the other reindeer? Where are they?”
My persistence rendered Santa speechless. He raised his right eyebrow, which was brown rather than white like his bear. I gasped; in that moment the Santa Claus illusion was gone forever.
I leaped off Santa’s lap. “You’re not real, Santa Claus!” I exclaimed, bursting into tears. Mother wiped away my tears and took me aside.
“You’ll be okay, Sweetie,” she said reassuringly. “I’m proud of you. You’re right; Santa Claus isn’t real; he’s made-up like the people in the stories you read. Those stories aren’t real, but you like them anyway, right?
“Yes,” I said, my eyes meeting hers.
“Writers make up stories to tell lessons or share something important. The Santa Claus story is like that. It’s made up to tell children about the spirit of kindness and giving. That’s what’s important. You understand, Sweetie?”
I nodded, taking comfort in Mother’s forthright explanation. Despite my disillusionment and disappointment, Mother gave me a timeless gift that Christmas Eve: An understanding that life is sometimes fictional, and reality isn’t always what it seems to be. So, don’t waller in it!
A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.