The glass of milk that Heather and her little brother Aiden had set out for Santa was now warm. They had gone to bed an hour ago, but were up for the third time. Each time they came downstairs, Heather made sure that the present she had made for Aiden was still properly placed under the tree.
“If you don’t get to bed, Santa will never come!” said Mom, who wished that she could go to bed even if her children didn’t want to.
Suddenly, and with a certain inspiration, Dad rose from the kitchen chair where he had been nibbling on Santa’s cookies. He cocked his head and looked up. Four little eyes looked up with him.
“Shhh . . . Listen . . . I think I hear something on the roof!”
It took a second for Heather to digest the meaning of those words and when she did, she ran squealing upstairs, Aiden following suit.
Mom and Dad smiled at each other when they heard what they were listening for, which was the muffled thump of little bodies landing on their respective mattresses. Fifteen minutes later, they heard what they were really listening for, which was nothing. Finally, they were able to finish their Christmas chores without risk of interruption. The final chore was the piling of presents under the tree, some labeled “From Mom and Dad” while others were labeled “From Santa.”
From their bed the next morning, Mom and Dad heard one set of footsteps pad down the stairs, stop, and then come bounding up the stairs.
“Aiden! He came! Santa’s been here!”
The ensuing hour was a riot of wrapping paper, smiles, and hugs. Heather was in charge of handing out the gifts, but a troubled look flashed across her face as she handed one in particular to her brother.
“This one’s from Santa, Aiden . . . Hmm, Santa uses the same wrapping paper as you do, Momma.”
Heather had saved the present that she had made for Aiden for the very last. She didn’t make it really, but she had painted the flimsy wooden frame just so and applied special stickers in very particular places. Heather had placed inside the frame her favorite of the many photos of Aiden and her. She had even wrapped the gift herself.
Aiden tugged at the paper, succeeded in removing it, and smiled when he saw the photo.
“It’s you and me, Heaver!”
“Do you like it?”
“I really do!”
After dinner, while Aiden was napping and Mom and Dad were cleaning up, Heather put down a new crayon and entered the kitchen. She was troubled. There had been rumors at school, and she had started to wonder herself how Santa could get any work done if he appeared at the mall every weekend during December.
“There is no Santa Claus, is there?”
Mom put down a dirty dish and gathered in her daughter before confirming that this was true.
“I kind of thought so,” was all that Heather said and she returned to her coloring.
Five minutes later, she was back in the kitchen.
“Then, there’s no Easter Bunny either?”
This truth was again confirmed and again Heather returned to her coloring.
Five minutes later, she was back in the kitchen for a third time, only now her lips were quivering.
“That means the tooth fairy isn’t real is she?”
Santa Claus was one thing and the Easter Bunny was never quite plausible to begin with, but to lose those two and the tooth fairy–and lose them forevermore–was just too much to bear. Heather burst into tears.
Mom sat down and pulled Heather onto her lap while Dad stroked her head gently. They made it better.
With the tears dried, and to get her mind off herself, Mom asked Heather to run upstairs and check on Aiden. He was still asleep, but she quickly left the room and raced down the steps for a second time that day.
“Momma! Aiden put his picture on his nightstand! He really likes it! He really likes it.” Mom smiled at Heather who returned to her coloring a happier and also wiser girl, although she did not know that yet.
Thus, it had become a very important Christmas; the Santa who climbs down chimneys and lives at the North Pole had died, but he had been replaced by the real Santa, that is the one who lives in the hearts of all who are willing to give of themselves, a long list of folks which now included one little girl named Heather.