49: Santa’s Surprise

49: Santa’s Surprise

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Santa’s Surprise

Santa loves to receive mail, and a very dedicated group of volunteer postal elves — more than 11,000 of them — are proud to help Santa with the task.

~Louise Chenier, Canada Post’s Chief Postal Elf

“We don’t have any carrots, Mom!” my four-year-old hollers from the kitchen.

From the opposite end of our mobile home I shout, “There’s celery in the bottom crisper, Jeremy.”

“Reindeer don’t eat celery!”

Oh dear. Someone is very close to a pre-Christmas meltdown. I walk into the kitchen, open the fridge door further and bend down to help him search.

“Are you sure they don’t like celery?” I shake a plastic produce bag. “We have lots.”

Jeremy shakes his head hard till his hair flies straight out. “It has to be carrots!”

“Okay, don’t panic.” I grab the phone and call my dearest neighbour.

“Hey Sharon, Merry Christmas Eve.”

I hear her laugh. Sharon’s not big on all the fuss over Christmas but she has a soft spot for Jeremy.

“I’m having a carrot crisis. Apparently reindeer don’t eat celery.” I stretch the phone cord far enough to check the time on the cuckoo clock. “Do you have any carrots?”

I place my hand over the phone. “She’s checking.”

Jeremy stands in front of me with pudgy fingers on hips and his head tipped to one side. I bite down on my bottom lip so as not to grin at his stern expression.

“You’re a life saver. Thanks a bunch.” I hang up the phone. “She’s got carrots. Now go get ready.” I point to his room. “Your clothes are on your bed. We can’t be late.”

Jeremy runs to his room while I organize Santa’s snack on the kitchen table: a glass of milk, three cookies on a napkin and a plate for the incoming carrot, which soon arrives. Crisis solved.

After we finally buckle into my Fiesta, I turn to Jeremy and smack the side of my face. “Oh no!” I exclaim. “I forgot my purse. You stay put. I’ll just be a sec.”

With keys in hand, I rush back wearing a huge I’m-so-sneaky grin. Once inside, a quick dash to the closet to pull out the hidden present and then I crouch down, scoot across the dark living room and tuck it under our tree. Perfect. I remember to grab my purse, lock the door and we’re off.

“We don’t have a chimney,” Jeremy states as we pull onto the street. “How will Santa get in?”

Ever since missing the annual Santa Claus breakfast two weeks ago, Jeremy has been obsessing about the jolly man in red forgetting to stop at our house. Dealing with his chicken pox was easier than dealing with his disappointment about not being able to sit on Santa’s knee. There were a few times I debated exposing everyone’s child to his itchy spots.

I glance over and see Jeremy’s way-too-serious expression.

“Don’t you worry. Santa doesn’t need a chimney. He has ways of getting in.”

Jeremy sticks his chin out. “But that’s how he gets in, down the chimney.”

“Does Jillian’s house have a chimney?”

No response. I bet he’s trying to remember if they have a fireplace.

“Does Travis’s house have a chimney?”

I shake my head. “They don’t. And Santa still comes to their house.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course.” I nod. “He came last year didn’t he?”

“But last year I went to his party. I told Santa what I wanted.”

“And this year we wrote a letter and mailed it.”

Jeremy’s ski jacket rustles as he crosses his arms over his chest. The wipers flip-flap and squeak the fresh snowflakes across the windshield.

The evening at my parents’ is full of festivities that includes a full Christmas feast of delicious food, the family picture where it takes longer to figure out the camera than to organize the people, family gifts and, last but not least, the proper amount of sibling bantering reserved for just such occasions. A fun and exhausting evening for everyone.

It’s a blizzard when we leave. Fresh powder for Christmas Day — how perfect is that? My nostrils stick together as I brush the snow off the car.

As we pass the last lights of Main Street, I stretch my neck out to peer into the white blur. A large, dark object approaches in the other lane. No headlights. Just one red light that flickers. As the shape gets closer I see it’s four horses, a sleigh and Santa.

I smile at my son, and point. “Look.”

Jeremy pushes against his seatbelt to see. “It’s Santa!”

He waves and twists around to follow them as they move through the snowstorm on their way out of town.

“That’s Santa!”

“It sure is.” I nod. “Hey, maybe he’s already been to our house!”

“Really? He did us first?”

“Maybe.” I grin.

How perfect is that for timing? Almost like I planned it.

When we arrive home, Jeremy runs up the steps and jiggles the door handle.

“Slow down.” I stick in the key. “I have to unlock it first.”

Once inside I flick on the light as he makes snowy footprints across the rust-orange living room carpet.

“Boots,” I remind him.

“He was here!” Jeremy rushes back to the mat, steps on the toe of one boot, yanks it off and almost falls over getting the other one off. “Santa came!”

Halfway through taking off my coat I stop and stare under the tree. Sitting right beside the present I put out earlier sits a fancy, red-foil, store-wrapped, large box with a giant gold bow. I glance into the shadows of the kitchen, then peer around the corner to check the hallway. Goosebumps make the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up.

“Can I open them?” Jeremy shrieks.

“If you open them now, there’s nothing for the morning.”

“That’s okay.” He nods with conviction. “Can I?”

“Open away.”

I put my ski jacket in the closet and flick on the rest of the lights.

Jeremy tears through the shiny red paper to get at the box.

“My fireman hat!” He yanks and pulls till the plastic wrapped helmet tumbles out.

“A fireman hat?” I question.

“Just what I wanted.”

Jeremy hits a button on top of the helmet. Red lights rotate across our wood panel walls. A piecing siren wails. I cover my ears. He plops it on his head, puts his hands in front to drive his imaginary fire truck and roars in circles around the room.

“I thought you wanted the . . .” I call out as he zooms past me.

With a huge grin, he tilts his shoulders and banks the corner into the kitchen. The light flashes faster; the siren screams louder.

“Oh Santa,” I say through a clenched smile. “We will be chatting really soon.”

~Barbara Wackerle Baker

Calgary, Alberta

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