Secret Santa leaves more than gifts

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2003

Like every other columnist in America, I'd planned to fill this week's space with light chatter about resolutions for the New Year. But something happened Christmas Eve and Christmas morning that changed that.

Leaving work Christmas Eve, I spotted a yellow Post-It note on the driver's seat of my car. Tired, and eager to get home, I ignored it and got in and drove away. But when I pulled up at home and got out, I noticed that besides the note, something else had been added to my vehicle. In the back seat was a pile of presents, wrapped in green Christmas paper, each one addressed to one or

another of my sons. Beneath their names was only "From Santa."

I had not been looking forward to this Christmas very much. Work, time and finances were keeping us from traveling to Tennessee to be with my husband's family (my own has scattered to the four corners of the earth) and

unexpected car and veterinary expenses were going to keep the Santa pile smaller than usual this year. The sight of those cheerful green packages struck me hard.

The majority of my genetic make-up is German, but there's enough Scots-Irish to keep me stiff-necked with pride and reluctant to ask for help, whether it's changing a tire or opening a door. At first, the presence of the presents stung that pride a little. But when the boys opened them up Christmas morning, I cried. Not because of injured pride or worrying about being able to provide Christmas for my kids, but because their Santa truly took the time to pick out something they would really like. These were not generic boy gifts guaranteed to please any male child between five and 13. These were carefully thought out gifts, each one tailored for each child, with the Santa knowing exactly the likes and interests of each boy. They were truly gifts from the heart, given out of caring, not charity. Some of them were books full of dragons and magic and sly humor - books that are nearly impossible to find in the area, books that were at the top of my sons' wish lists.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

I have a sneaking suspicion who this Santa was, and who his elves were, but I will respect their wish for anonymity. Instead, I'll take this time and space to thank them - and to thank all of those who "pay it forward" by giving when they aren't required, or even expected, to give. I thank all of those who adopted angels, who rang the bell for Salvation Army, who delivered meals for ACORN, who gave for the joy of giving and with no thought of reward.

I received a bigger gift and better gift than my sons. I was given the gift of the Christmas spirit in its purest form - I was told in this subtle and generous secret way that someone cared about me, cared enough to know my greatest treasure is my family and cared enough to learn about that family. The books and toys may have been material things, but they were wrapped in something far more substantial than green paper. They were wrapped in love, and I thank you.

I will make a resolution now, just to keep from getting kicked out of the columnists' union. I resolve to return this lovely gesture, to "pay it forward" myself, and to keep this renewed Christmas spirit alive in me all year, not just on Dec. 25.