Less than an hour ago, I thought Christmas was commercialized nonsense. It was just an excuse for parents to go into debt and kids to act like brats. Christmas wasn’t about peace and joy, but Xboxes and iPhones. Everyone was focused on out-getting or out-giving everyone else.
I distanced myself from the holiday was much as possible. The only reason I was inside the coffee shop on a Christmas Eve was because my driver side window didn’t roll down. I was forced into the little shop crowded with last minute shoppers getting a caffeine buzz to finish their frenzied search for merchandise.
I wouldn’t have stopped at all but I’d volunteered to work the night shift at the hospital and I needed the caffeine. The debts nursing school left me with needed to be paid, even if that meant working Christmas eve.
Miraculously, there was a table empty and I slid into the seat before anyone else could. As I waited for the barista to call my name, I watched the chaotic scene in front of me.
A young mother tried to keep her screaming baby quiet while her five-year-old and made his three-year-old sister cry by telling him that Santa was bringing him a ton of presents, but she was only getting coal.
Two little boys argued over who was getting the most presents this year. A man talked loudly on his phone: something about looking everywhere, but none of the stores had it. Whoever was on the other end (probably his wife) didn’t believe him. I could hear her shrill voice coming out of the speaker.
Didn’t people have enough stress in their lives without Christmas? It wouldn’t bother me if the Holiday was canceled, well, I would miss the extra pay that came from working on Christmas Eve.
A middle aged man with a scarf wrapped around his neck, pulled out the chair across from mine. “Mind if I sit down? There aren’t any more seats left.”
I kind of did mind, but he wasn’t arguing on his cell phone or carrying an armload of kids, so I nodded my head.
“You look like you could use some Christmas cheer,” he said. Excuse me? What right did this stranger have to get into my business? Just because I let him sit here didn’t mean I wanted an evaluation.
“I could use a little less Christmas cheer,” I told him.
“You don’t like Christmas?”
“I don’t like what it does to people.”
He raised an eyebrow. “What does it do?”
“It brings out their worst. Suddenly the only thing on everyone’s minds is getting, getting, getting. Parents have to get more toys for their kids, because if they get less than last year, they’ll throw a fit. Kids want more toys even though half the toys they already own are unused. Everyone is rushing around trying to get everything on their list before stores run out. And heaven forbid you step outside your door on Black Friday.”
“Christmas may bring out some people’s bad side,” he said, “but it can also bring out their good side.”
“I don’t think trampling people because big screen TVs are on sale is the nice side of people.”
The man chuckled. “That wasn’t exactly what I was thinking about.” He leaned in. “I bet I know something that will change your mind about Christmas.”
“I’m pretty sure you can’t,” I said.
“I’ll right, it’s a bet.” He held out his hand for me to shake.
“You’re on.” I knew nothing he said would change my mind. As I clasped his hand, the small coffee shop morphed into a huge room filled with people. I was standing in the middle of a mall.
“How did this happen?” I turned to the man with the scarf, who was standing beside me. “Did you bring us here?”
“I said I could change your mind.”
I didn’t have time for this weird stuff. I had to get my coffee and get to the hospital. “But…” I started.
The man held a finger to his lips. “You’ll miss it.” He pointed to a line of children waiting to get on Santa’s lap.
Great. All I needed to see was more spoiled kids.
A little boy climbed unto Santa’s knee as his grandma stood by and watched. I waited for him to start his long list, but instead he pulled a picture from his pocket.”
“Who’s this?” asked the cheerful mall Santa.
“She’s my sister,” said the boy. “Her name is Sarah and she wanted to come with me to see you so bad.” He looked at his lap, “But she can’t. She’s really sick and can’t leave the hospital.”
I was touched that a little boy would think to mention his sister, but I didn’t see how this was supposed to change my mind. Santa gave his condolences and then asked the boy what he wanted for Christmas. When the boy was done telling Santa, his grandma came and helped him off of Santa’s lap. The boy ran to the elf who was giving prizes to everyone who visited Santa, but the grandma stayed.
“I know it’s too much to ask,” she said to the mall Santa, “but my granddaughter, the girl in the picture, has leukemia and isn’t expected to make it even through the holidays,” she said, tearing up. “I was hoping that you would visit Sarah. She only asked for one thing for Christmas. To see Santa.”
Even through the fake beard and curly white hair, I could see that Santa was swallowing back emotion. He told the woman to leave the information with the elf, and he would visit the little girl.
Suddenly, the bright greens and red of the decorated mall turned to white. I was standing in a hospital room.
The boy and his grandmother were there along with a man and woman who must be her parents. They were gathered around a hospital bed that held a pale young girl. Her light colored hair was thin, and there were patches of her scalp that were bald.
I looked at the man in the scarf.
“We shouldn’t be here. We weren’t invited.”
“Don’t worry. They can’t see us.”
The door opened and in walked the Santa Clause from the mall.
“Santa!” Sarah’s eyes lit up. She stretched her frail arms out and Santa came close for a hug.
“I knew you’d come!” Her blue eyes stared at him admiringly.
Sarah chattered away to Santa oblivious to the tears in the adult’s eyes. My own eyes had tears in them. The mall Santa wasn’t getting paid for this. No one was applauding him. He did it because he wanted to make a little girl happy. He did it because it was Christmas.
Before he left, Santa leaned to the little girl. “Now, Sarah, you have a job to do.” He told her seriously, “You have concentrate on getting well. I expect to see you this time next year.” Then he asked, “Do you believe in angels?” Sarah nodded. Santa took Sarah’s small, frail hand in his. “It may be easier to get well with some help, so I’m going to ask that angels watch over you.”
Sarah smiled. “They will Santa. I’m sure they will if you ask.”
The white room swirled away and I was back at the mall in front of Santa.
“What happened to the little girl?” I asked the man in the scarf.
“Does that matter? What matters is that someone took the time to reach out to another person who was hurting. That man had his own kids to buy presents for, his own family to spend time with, but he chose to take the time to do something nice for someone else.”
I looked at the man in the Santa costume and thought that maybe Christmas did bring out the good after all. As I was watching, a girl with short blond hair walked up to him.
“Hi, Santa remember me?” she asked. “You visited me in the hospital last year.”
My mouth opened. It was Sarah. She looked so different. Her hair was healthy and her cheeks pink.
Santa’s reaction was much like my own. He looked at her for a moment, then he pulled her into a hug and his eyes filled with tears.
“Christmas is what you make it,” said the man in the scarf watching Sarah and Santa. “You can choose to only see the ads, the companies trying to sell their products, and spoiled children. Or you can see the good that Christmas brings. And what’s more important is that you decide what kind of Christmas you experience. You can join the commercialism, or even ignore Christmas completely. Or you can do something that will change another’s life.”
With those words, the malls rearranged itself and I was back in the coffee shop. The seat across from me was empty. I scanned the room for the man in the scarf, but he wasn’t there.
My name was called and I hurried to get my coffee. I would have to be fast if I was going to make it to the toy store and still be on time for my shift. I couldn’t be Santa, but I maybe a few small gifts would make staying in the hospital for Christmas a little more bearable for the kids in the children’s wing.
I stepped outside, excited to carry out my plan, and whispered to the cold air, “Looks like you win the bet.”
This is based off of a true story you can read here: