There Are Lots of Santas

We adults cope with Santa Claus proliferation by telling the children that there’s only one real St. Nicholas. All the white-bearded, red-suited, black-booted folks we see at the stores, in the parades and during the holiday parties are Santa’s helpers, we claim.

But we’re wrong. I know it as certainly as I know anything, because I read about it in the newspaper. Really.

Earlier this month, we published a story about Bethlehem Temple in Wheeling. The church holds an annual giveaway of Christmas presents for children.

What struck me was Pastor Darrell Cummings’ explanation of the mechanics of the event. Elves from the church fill a room with toys. Children are allowed to go in and pick what they want.

Parents are kept outside. That’s because moms and dads are more likely to encourage the kids to be practical about their choices. Church leaders want the youngster to get what they really want for Christmas.

It happens a lot. Think about the “Shop With a Cop” holiday projects. Officers don’t just select gifts they think the kids might want. They take the little ones to the store, where they get what they’ve asked Santa to bring.

Same thing with another church in Wheeling. There, a parishioner told me, thousands of dollars were spent to pay off Christmas layaways at stores. Less fortunate moms and dads were given a little help to ensure Santa Claus comes to their homes.

Consider the tags you see on some Christmas trees, variously referred to as “giving trees” or “angel trees.” Organizers have checked with parents, sometimes with the kids themselves, to learn exactly what benefactors should buy to please each and every tot or teen.

Some Christmas helpers are able, for reasons including money and time, only to buy truckloads of toys and hand them out. But they try to ensure that every child gets something he or she really wants.

So the bottom line is this: It would be far easier and less expensive for individuals, churches, organizations and special campaigns just to hand out toys. Hey, who cares if Johnny wanted a toy truck but got a box of modeling clay instead? And little Susie ought to be happy she got a doll, without worrying about the fact she asked Santa for one with a pink dress.

But here in the Ohio Valley — and, I suspect, in lots of other places — going through the motions of helping children from less fortunate families isn’t enough. People want the kids to get what they really want for Christmas.

They want the little ones, especially, to exclaim on Christmas morning, “Look! Santa brought just what I asked him to bring me!”

So there’s really no need to make things up about all those Santa Clauses we see before Christmas. Each and every one of them really is the jolly old elf himself. So are a great many other people who don’t have beards and aren’t wearing red.

God bless them all, every one, for doing what they can to ensure Santa Claus visits every child. Merry Christmas!

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