Being Santa

    Holidays bring out the memories. This is one of my favorites and illustrates why I love the holiday season.

    I grew up with Christmas. While my family was never very religious, I grew up knowing Christmas was a celebration of Christ’s birth. I knew the story of Mary and Joseph and the star of Bethlehem. I also knew it was a time of family and friends and exchanging gifts. It was a time of togetherness and inclusion.

    I was about 20 years old, and it was early evening on Christmas day. We already had the family get-together, gifts had all been unwrapped and enjoyed, the feast had been consumed, and my dog needed to pee. I grabbed my jacket and Fizzgig’s leash, and soon we were out the door.

    We didn’t get far — just to the end of the driveway and a few feet across our front yard — before Fizzy stopped to sniff at something in the grassy verge between the sidewalk and the road. Worried it was an injured animal, I looked closer and saw it was a stuffed bunny. It was well-worn — the sort of threadbare that only comes when a toy is dearly loved.

    I didn’t want to leave it there on the curb, so I took it back to the house and told my mom about it. We set it on the porch under the light so it would be visible to anyone who came looking for it.

    The bunny was still there the next morning, though Mom said late at night she glanced out her bedroom window and saw someone walking slowing down the sidewalk with a flashlight. We needed to draw more attention that we were caring for the bunny.

    We made up a sign and hung it on a tree near the curb where I found it. “Found bunny – well loved” and that we had him in our house. A few hours later there was a knock on the door.

    “Please tell me you have Mr. Hops.” The lady looked hopeful and nervous. A little face looked out the window of her minivan at the curb. My mom held up the bunny and the lady waved to the van. “They found Mr. Hops!” Her little girl jumped out of the van and ran up to get him, hugging him tightly.

    They lived just up the street from us — one of the few Jewish families in the neighborhood at the time — and on Christmas day the little girl had been upset that she didn’t get gifts from Santa like her friends at school. Hoping to help cheer her up, her father took her (and Mr. Hops) for a walk. Mr. Hops had apparently gotten away from her at some point, and she was up all night crying about losing him.

    As the little girl stood on the porch hugging the bunny, her mother said “See? Like your very own Santa Claus!” The little girl thanked us, and we told her we were glad to look after Mr. Hops for her. There were smiles and waves as they climbed back in their van.

    The mother came back later with a foil bundle for us — treats she had made for their Hanukkah celebrations. For years after, until they moved away, they remembered us, leaving cookies and treats addressed “For our Santas.”

    This is why, as a born-again Christian, I love wishing others a Happy Holiday. Togetherness, compassion for one another, caring for your fellow human — these are not exclusive to one religion, nor should they be reserved only for those who hold our same beliefs. And so I say to all reading this, regardless our differences or similarities:

I wish you the happiest of holiday seasons. 

You are loved.

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