For a number of years now, I have been the Santa Claus for many organizations in Clinton County. I see children of all ages in parades, breakfasts, parties, and other events. I visit daycares, nursing homes, and occasional private residences.
Every year I am amazed by the wide variety of responses I get when I ask, “What do you want for Christmas?”
Of course there is always a popular toy. This year it was hatchimals — the stuffed animals which hatch from their own eggs. Kids wanted them, and parents flocked to buy them.
Older kids always want computers, tablets, and phones. Every younger kid wants a phone too, but mom is always standing behind him frantically shaking her head NO because he’s too young.
Lots of kids want puppies, kitties, or ponies. I have to explain to them that Santa doesn’t put living things in a box. I won’t make a puppy ride in a bag of toys on Christmas Eve — that wouldn’t be nice. Instead, if your parents want you to have a pet, they can provide it. Most kids accept that.
Some children want a long list of expensive things. They are easy to spot. Usually the whole family is well-dressed, and the parents have expensive cameras and phones when they bring the kids to see me.
These kids equate possessions with happiness. It saddens me a little to know that they will have to experience the loss of their things before they understand. What is really important in life can’t come from a store.
Other kids are simpler. They just want to see their whole family at one place, and they are genuinely excited when they tell me about the big family gathering they have planned in a few days.
They are surprised and grateful when I give them a stuffed animal that we got from a yard sale last summer. They hug me and say, “I’ll be thankful for whatever you bring. I’m leaving you milk and cookies!” Santa loves milk and cookies. Vanilla egg nog is even better.
Still other kids ask for things Santa can’t bring. Because my day job is in the justice system, I sometimes know who isn’t coming home for Christmas. I remember how heartbreaking it was the first time a little girl asked me if her mommy in jail could come see her. She didn’t know why mommy was in jail, but she loved her.
This year I had a little boy ask if he could have his uncle back. His uncle died a few months ago after a drug overdose.
Another little girl asked if she could go live with her daddy. Her parents are divorced and she didn’t want to ask mommy, because she didn’t want to hurt mommy’s feelings. There are some things the elves can’t make.
I hope your family had a great Christmas together. I hope that your children’s wishes came true, and that you were all happy and healthy through the whole Christmas Season.
Now that Christmas is over, and I have put away my red suit for another year, please do something for Old Saint Nick.
Please love your children. Spend time with them. Make them a priority.
Sometimes we make our children a priority by simply putting down our phones and talking with them. Sometimes we do it by making good choices when they aren’t even around — like when we choose not to break the law.
I don’t want your children to ask for YOU for Christmas. Sometimes we make them a priority by teaching them that people are more important than things. Shiny new possessions are nice, but can never replace the magic of family.
Some of the best gifts at Christmas aren’t wrapped in paper or bows at all.
Mike Daugherty is Judge of the Clinton County Municipal Court.