As promised, the following is the complete version of the entry sent to The Advocate. While I have no delusions this equals Philip Van Doren Stern’s work, the quiet message from my own “Greatest Gift” moment, is one of my most treasured life experiences. Happiest of Holidays to everyone!
My most treasured toy arrived when my childhood expectations for Christmas gifts were many years in the past, and when a particular holiday season only filled me with dread. At that time, I was raising my young son – mostly- alone. It was a busy, content household. Yet, I was hoping that it would soon be even busier. Would the man I had been dating for a few years, perhaps this year, ask The Question? Instead, he informed me the week before Thanksgiving that I was no one he wanted to marry. Though mortified and heartbroken, I hid those emotions from my son; determined to give my child a happy holiday season. We baked cookies, opened the little doors on the Advent calendar and drove through neighborhoods to look at the holiday lights. My son was having a great time, and I was pleased he was unaware of my sadness.
One day, while shopping for holiday gifts, I decided to buy something time-consuming and distracting for me: a small, unassembled dollhouse. It seemed the perfect project for all the future evenings I would be spending at home. The box was wrapped and stowed away with all the other gifts. And most importantly, I decided it would be a gift “from Santa” – for at my house, Santa’s gifts were wrapped in distinctive paper and the gift tag was signed (in gold ink, no less) from Santa himself. Santa Claus had not given me a gift in years. It was an amusing thought to consider how my son would react to seeing that box under the tree.
But for the moment, my son was excited with a different holiday milestone: this year, he was old enough to purchase Christmas gifts. He was earning an allowance for completing small tasks, and he now had a few dollars to spend. We went to a dollar store, so he could easily find items and gift bags within his budget. I was instructed NOT to follow him about the store, but to wait by the entrance. Soon enough, he proudly walked through the checkout lane with his small bag of purchases. Once home, he insisted on wrapping the gifts himself, then placed the small bundles under our tree.
On Christmas morning, his small bundles had been joined by a large collection of wrapped presents, Christmas stockings and packages still sporting mailing labels. I had placed my gift “from Santa” beneath all the other presents, hoping it would be a memorable surprise for a child already questioning Santa’s existence. But before any of the other presents were opened, my son wanted me to, first, open the gift he had purchased for me. Tucked inside the small gift bag was a little chair – the perfect size for my soon-to-be-unwrapped dollhouse. “Why this is lovely!” I said. “What gave you this idea?”
“Oh, I thought it would be something you might like,” he replied.
Placing the little chair on the mantle, I watched my son eagerly dive into the pile of gifts. My mind was dizzy from this amazing coincidence and desperate to compose a response when the doll house would, eventually, be unwrapped. When he pulled that last box out from under the tree and read the tag, his eyes widened. “It’s for you…from Santa.”
I was determined to act surprised. “For me?” I said, taking the package onto my lap. “Why would Santa bring me something this year?”
As the wrapping paper was removed, and the contents revealed, my son gasped. “Oh, my gosh,” he whispered. “Santa must have been in the store when I bought your chair!” His expression, a mixture of awe and glee, confirmed that the legend of Santa had at least one more year of credulity in our household. And in that moment, I embraced a warm sense of peace and healing; grateful for the unusual blending of events to create this sweet holiday story.
The little chair now resides inside that dollhouse. Though more than two decades have past, this special toy is my constant reminder of the unexpected, magical and sometimes mysterious joys of the Christmas season.