I held the remnants of a half-eaten cookie in my hand. Crumbs of its former plate mates were scattered tellingly on the ground. The wide, innocent eyes of my 4-year old daughter gazed up at me, slightly fearful. “Do you know who ate this cookie?” Her head began vigorously nodding. “Would you like to tell me who ate this cookie?” She leaned over conspiratorially and whispered with a preschool lisp, “I tink it was Danta Kaws.”
“Danta” apparently did not have enough to do at the North Pole that year as tales of his escapades peppered each month. He downed cookies, licked the frosting off cupcakes, took candy and even, at one point, wrote on my daughter’s closet wall. Staring at the remarkably toddler-looking crayon marks on the wall, I wondered what we could do to rehabilitate the wayward “Danta.” The question continued to plague me as we walked through a large local retail store in September. Incredulous, I looked and saw adjacent to the back to school display was a smattering of Halloween items and a large Christmas display with a picture of Santa holding the words, “What’s On Your Wish List?” My young daughter grabbed my arm and pointed, “Look Mom, it’s Danta Kaws. He’s going to get me whatever I want for Christmas.”
Poor Santa. He had been relegated to a petty treat thief, rogue graffiti artist and supplier of all things selfishly coveted. He needed a defender. Thus began our “Rehabilitate Santa Project”. We had always picked a local struggling family to sponsor at Christmas. That year we changed things up a little. We bought small red Santa hats and headed for the toy aisle. “Santa loves getting things for others secretly. Can you pick out some toys you think kids that don’t have toys might like?” Our cart was soon full of items my Santa-hat clad daughters had chosen. My daughter’s toy aisle pleadings soon transformed to things she thought “Danta” should get for kids without toys.
Cookie day came next. “Santa loves giving treats. Who should we make treats for?” Red hats on, the girls rang doorbells, left treats and ran giggling all the way back to the car. Danta didn’t get blamed for any more secret cookie or candy eating pantry raids. Many anonymous treats were delivered that year by four young girls with a lot of initiative and little parental input. Neighbors enjoyed the offerings including two bags of chocolate chips, an opened bag of marshmallows and a half-eaten candy bar.
The day before Christmas, my husband ran around frantically trying to locate his best socks. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t find them. That night, the mystery was solved. Hung by the other family socks were two long, high quality, white male athletic socks, labeled with permanent marker: JNJR and BNSN. Suddenly my daughter’s questioning the day earlier if “Danta loved animals” made sense. Our dog, Benson, and cat, Ginger, would be taken care of. Leaving the mantle I noticed an extra bulge in the stocking of my 4-year old. Reaching in, I found a note. The increase in both spelling accuracy and writing proficiency showed she had enlisted the help of her 6-year old sister to transmit her message.
I hope you have a gud day. Don’t worry about leeving a present for me. I have alot. Some kids dont. Will you giv my presents to them this year pleese? P.S. I love you more than the Tooth Faree.”
Reading the note, I realized Santa’s reputation had been saved. My 4-year old daughter really did understand “Danta Kaws”, maybe even better than her mom.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve had many chances to revisit my memories of the year we gave Santa a charitable makeover. As yearly holiday traditions fall victim to a pandemic and cherished gatherings are cancelled, it is easy to have a pre-reformation Santa mindset. Blame, self-pity and unrealized expectations clamor for attention on the normally peaceful Christmas stage.
In these moments, I am grateful for the transformative power of perspective and action. Perhaps this year provides an opportunity to create our best Christmas yet. What if we bring the joy of our typical celebratory gatherings to every place we go during the holidays? Virtual hugs and smiles will touch thousands in grocery stores, across porches, over telephones and in our neighborhoods. What if we put on proverbial Santa hats and look to fill needs around us? What if, instead of counting the gifts under the tree, we count our blessings? What if we look for the characters from our traditional nativity in those around us: bell-ringers, ding-dong ditchers, Full Bellies servers, POM volunteers and neighbors?
Maybe this will be the year we learn the lesson my daughter did long ago; only those who emulate “Danta Kaws” can hope to understand him.
Julie Reece-DeMarco is an award-winning, multi-published author, speaker and attorney. She enjoys spending time outside in the beautiful Northwest with her husband and four daughters.