You have nothing to fear from Santa

Randy Riley - Contributing Columnist

I’m not sure if “Santaphobia” is even a word. If it is not, it should be.

My little girl was definitely Santaphobic. At the time, Jessi was about five years old. Like many divorced fathers, I had Jessi every other weekend. On this particular weekend, we were doing a little Christmas shopping in one of the malls in the Cincinnati area. It was several days before Christmas.

Honestly, I was less interested in actually buying Christmas gifts as I was in taking my beautiful little daughter to see Santa; to have her sit on his lap, and to listen in as she told him her most secret wishes for Christmas.

Santa was holding court near the center of the mall. Everything was draped with white lights and evergreen. There was a long line of tired looking parents hanging on to anxious looking children just waiting to have their one-on-one time with Jolly Old St. Nick.

Elves were everywhere, keeping kids in line, taking pictures, handing out red and white candy canes and working to keep the boss (Santa) on task. I’m not sure who was more anxious and tired — the parents, the children or the elves. The elves somehow managed to keep the chaos in check. I think it was Christmas magic.

Santa, as usual, was perfect. He patiently listened to the children, both naughty and nice. He patted little heads and hoisted little-ones onto his ample lap. If they wiggled and cried, he worked with the parents and the elf-photographer to get as good a picture as possible. He sometimes worked his own magic … or miracles.

As we approached, I said, “Hey, look there’s Santa.” Jessi’s reaction was shock and terror; mostly terror.

She could barely see over the wall of people decked out in their finest (sometimes strangest) Christmas sweaters, but she was able to catch a glimpse of Santa sitting on his throne. Her movements were swift.

She held her little hand up toward Santa and quickly and emphatically shouted, “No.” Immediately, she was behind me. Daddy became her shield, her protector. I was standing between Jessi and Santa. When I moved, she moved. She had a death-grip on my coat. She was not going anywhere near the Old Elf.

What Jessi didn’t know was that for several years I had been helping Santa around Christmas time. As an official Santa Helper, I would wear the red suit and spread Christmas joy whenever and wherever asked.

Jessi’s mother and I thought it would be exciting for Jessi to see Santa on Christmas morning. I was planning to leave my home dressed as Santa and go to Jessi’s house. There she could experience the sheer joy of “catching Santa” as he left gifts under their tree. That had been our plan, but following the disastrous visit to Santa at the mall, I wasn’t so sure it was going to be a good idea.

I had selected the perfect little, toy doll for Santa to personally hand my beautiful little girl on Christmas morning, but I was very concerned that her obvious fear of Santa would ruin the surprise and possibly even drive a deeper wedge between Jessi and St. Nick. Her mom and I talked and we decided that I would still try to spread some special Christmas joy acting as Santa for our little girl.

Before the sun came out on Christmas morning, I suited-up, bearded-up and headed for Jessi’s house. I said a short prayer as I drove down the long lane leading to their house. Jessi’s mom was up and waiting. She let me in the porch door nearest the Christmas tree. That was where I would make my escape after my final HO, HO, HO.

Carrying a large, red sack full of gifts, I climbed the stairs to Jessi’s room. The night-lite cast a glow over the room. Her golden hair shined against her pillow.

I started kicking a few toys around on the floor, making noise. In my best Santa voice, I said, “Hummm. It looks like she takes good care of her toys.” Jessi turned in her bed and sat up. “Santa?” She said.

I turned toward her and, holding my finger to my lips whispered, “Shhhhhh.” She whispered back, “OK.”

Sitting on the edge of her bed, I reached into the red, Santa bag and pulled out a beautiful Barbie doll. She was dressed in a white, handmade gown. While handing the doll to Jessi, Santa said, “You’ve been very good.”

Then a Christmas miracle occurred. Jessi wrapped her arms around Santa and whispered, “I love you, Santa.” If I had tried to speak, Jessi would have heard Santa cry in blessed joy.

She followed me downstairs. Peeking through the doorway at the bottom of the stairs, she got to watch Santa fill her stockings and place special gifts around their glowing Christmas tree. While placing gifts on the far side of the tree, I disappeared out the porch door, shouting a hearty, “Merry Christmas.”

I didn’t turn my car lights on until I got to the end of their lane. From there, I cried most of the way home.

A truly Merry Christmas involves joy, family, worship, sharing, feasting, love and some tears of sadness, but mostly tears of joy.

Have a very joyful, Merry Christmas.

Randy Riley

Contributing Columnist