I met Santa at Walmart today. He actually took the time to help me in the self-checkout area. We chatted about the weather (it had snowed), his health (he’s on Keto – but is giving himself a pass on Christmas Eve), his family (Mrs. Claus and the elves are doing well), and the season in general. That part of the conversation gave him pause. He sighed – it was a long, unhappy sigh, with no ho-ho-ho found anywhere.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, sensing a little moisture in those twinkling blue eyes.
“I had good intentions,” he said sadly. “I really did.”
“Well, of course, you did,” I exclaimed. “Who could ever doubt the intentions of Santa Claus?”
He shook his head. “No,” he said. “You don’t understand. Look around you. This isn’t what Christmas is supposed to be about.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” I admitted.
“Here, let me help you out to your car with your groceries,” he said. “Then I’ll show you what I mean.”
So, we pushed my cart out, put my groceries away, and then Santa placed his hand on my arm and suddenly we were transported from the parking lot into the toy department.
“Cool! How do you…” I started to say, but Santa put his finger to his lips to silence me and then nodded in the direction of the toys.
I watched a woman picking up toys, looking at the price, putting it back down and picking it up again. Her face was not one of excitement or joy in being able to give a gift, but despair and exhaustion.
“What’s wrong with her?” I whispered.
“She thinks she can’t afford Christmas,” he replied sadly.
I shrugged. “I understand that,” I confessed. “Christmas is so expensive these days.”
He shook his head. “That’s not Christmas,” he muttered.
Then, he touched my hand again and we were at the grocery store in the baking aisle. I watched a young couple put some cookie mixes and sprinkles into their cart.
“Why can’t we just buy cookies?” she asked.
“Because it’s a tradition,” he replied. “We need to make homemade cookies.”
“When?” she replied, her voice sounding tired and worn. “When are we going to fit in making cookies?”
“Well, we’ll just have to find the time,” he replied shortly, and then pushed the cart further down the aisle.
“Traditions are good,” I said to Santa. “And, you know, they’ll just have to squeeze in some time somewhere.”
“That’s not Christmas,” he repeated.
Santa touched me on the arm again and suddenly we were in the jewelry department where a young woman was looking at the earrings on the sale rack. She picked up her phone and texted. “So, I’m supposed to buy a Secret Santa gift for someone at work,” she texted. “If something was originally ten dollars, but it’s on sale now, does it count for spending ten dollars?”
I shook my head and turned to Santa. “Yeah, I don’t think so,” I whispered.
His face saddened even more. “This is not Christmas,” he whispered.
“No,” I corrected Santa, someone had to set this guy straight. “This is Christmas. Maybe it’s not Christmas up at the North Pole, but it’s Christmas here in the real world. Christmas is watching movies where perfect people have perfect homes, perfect trees, and perfect gifts. Christmas is seeing advertisements that tell us we need to give our loved ones cars, jewelry, exercise equipment, phones, electronic gadgets and all kinds of toys to prove that we love them. Christmas is parties, dinners, plays, ballets, and a calendar so full that we are all exhausted. Christmas is all about expectations and feeling like a complete failure if you don’t meet them. We have one job, once a year, and if we screw up Christmas, we might as well give up. And that, Santa, is Christmas.”
Santa stared at me for quite a long time. “That’s really what Christmas is all about for you?” he whispered.
I shrugged. “That’s what Christmas is all about for everyone,” I replied.
He leaned forward, touched my arm once more and suddenly it’s nighttime and I’m standing on a rocky path, with desert and mountains all around me. I’m in the Twilight Zone!!!
Then, walking up the path towards me was this really tall man dressed in white and he was kind of glowing. “I’m sorry,” I began. “And you are…”
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be unto all people,” he said to me, with a gentle smile on his face. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
Then he reached over and touched my arm – just like Santa had. And suddenly I was standing in the stable, amidst the humble shepherds, the barnyard animals, surrounded by the dirt and the noise of Bethlehem. But far in front of me, in the furthest corner of the stable, protected from the elements, were Joseph, Mary, and the baby. Joseph stood watching over them, as Mary knelt in the hay, her babe wrapped in swaddling clothes held tightly in her arms.
I slowly moved forward, to get closer to the baby. And then he opened his eyes and looked at me. My heart was filled with love. My eyes were filled with tears. And my entire being was filled with joy. I knew who he was and, it seemed, he knew who I was. I knelt down next to him and softly stroked his perfect skin with my finger. He wrapped his tiny hand around my finger, and I felt peace and wonder, unlike anything I’ve ever felt in my life.
But then, for an instant, when I looked down at that perfect, chubby hand, I saw where, in his future, there would be nail marks. Nails that he would submit to, because of his love for me.
I glanced up and met the eyes of his mother. There were tears in her eyes. A mother’s tears for who her son was meant to be. “I’m so sorry,” I whispered, my throat tight and tears now streaming down my face.
She smiled at me with understanding. “Today is not for weeping,” she replied with kindness. “Today is to celebrate the redemption of all mankind. Today is the day to remember peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
I looked back down at the baby, who was now asleep in Mary’s arms and I knew she was right. Today was the day to be grateful that he was born and that someday he would save us all. I stood up slowly, took one last look at the baby, and then smiled at Mary. “Thank you,” I said softly and then I stepped away to give the countless others the chance to view the sleeping child.
As I made my way back, out of the stables, I realized that I had no desire to go shopping, or make fourteen dozen cookies, or get dressed to go out to that cocktail party at work. I wanted to be with my family and the people I loved. I wanted to share the love and peace I felt when that little baby wrapped his hand around my finger. I wanted to get rid of all of the distractions and concentrate on what I was supposed to remember about Christmas – this is the day to remember peace on earth, goodwill to men.
And then, I was back in Walmart and Santa was standing with me next to my car in the parking lot. I glanced at the store and the people frantically hurrying from their cars into the wide double doors and I nodded at him. “That’s not Christmas,” I said, finally agreeing with him.
He smiled, a real Santa smile this time, and replied, “Let others know.”
So, that’s what I’m doing. If you’re reading this, I’d like you to take a moment, close your eyes and picture yourself in a stable in Bethlehem. Kneel down in front of the manger and let the Christ-child take your finger in his tiny little hand. Let yourself feel his love and his peace. Let the joy and wonder of this miracle renew your love for mankind. And understand that when that child smiles at you, there is complete acceptance and love in that smile. He knows you and he loves you. He came to earth for you, to offer you peace and to fill your heart with joy and wonder.
And that is Christmas.