The buzz began immediately.
Santa! Santa came!
Hey, he left a note!
Rudolph put our paper chains on the ceiling!
And our letters are gone!
Santa took them!
The kids could hardly get their coats off quick enough to rush over the the chart board and read what Santa had to say. They looked around at the candy canes hanging, the paper chains a waaaay high up, and the big red fuzzy at Santa left for me to borrow (Miss Hillary, you're SOOO lucky! "Why's that?" Cause you get to borrow Santa's hat AND you get to see him again before Christmas to return it!!!). Some looked around in wonder, some were nearly shaking with excitement. And of course there were a few who punctured the glee with doubt.
It's not real!
The hoof prints are just paint.
Miss Hillary put those chains up.
"Nooo!" I told them. Eighteen excited kids all talking at once and asking questions was boggling my mind, but I just carried on, weaving a tale of Santa's visit and answering their questions as I went. "When I left on Friday, none of this was here! There is a little ladder in the school, but it's not nearly high enough to reach the ceiling! Those chains are WAY too high for me to have put them up. And I would get in trouble if I painted the floor! That wasn't me, either. Rudolph must have had very muddy hooves..." Then why didn't Santa leave footprints, too? [smart little kiddies!] "Well must have been riding his sleigh, so his feet didn't get muddy." It's just paint. Miss Hillary, you painted those. "Nooo! It's dried mud. They weren't there on Friday. Mr. G [an ESL teacher who had come in to drop something off], did you paint those hoof prints?" He didn't either, which was nearly enough to convince them. Miss Hillary, are you sure you're not lying? "I'm positive! I would neeever lie to you! Besides, what could have happened to our letters? And how else could those chains have gotten way up there? Anyway, didn't you say on Friday that you wished Santa would visit our classroom?
Yeah, but why does Santa always come when we can't see him? Why doesn't he ever come for us to see? Then we can KNOW that he's real!
"Ah, but it's not about seeing him. It's about believing. If you ever saw Santa, there would be no more magic."By the end of our excited discussion on the carpet that morning, the biggest doubter was the biggest believer and every single child was convinced without a doubt that the big man in red had come to visit.
They happily told everyone they saw, too. Friends, teachers, passing parents. Two even ran to the office at recess to tell the office staff.
The day proceeded in sugary goodness as we made and decorated our gingerbread houses. I have never seen so much candy in one place in my life! They loved it, and were definitely in the Christmas spirit, humming Christmas songs and chattering about Santa as they worked.
After school I found a large envelope in my box: our letters to Santa had been read and replied to! I wrote on the outside in big swirly red writing "To Division 21, Love Santa,"dumped a whole bunch of silver glitter inside the envelope, and shook it all around. Up to the staffroom I went, where I dripped some water on the outside of the envelope and stuck it in the freezer to chill overnight.
Tuesday after recess was the big event - our letters from Santa had arrived! I waited an extra minute or two in the staffroom to make sure all the kids were lined up outside our door. As I approached, I whispered excitedly to them. "Boys and girls, look! Santa answered our letters! And it must be fresh from the North Pole! See? There's even ice on the envelope!!!" Gravity and the freezer had worked more magic than I could have hoped, as all the water had run down to the edge of the envelope and had made about a dozen little frozen droplets hanging off the side. Our envelope had icicles!!
Look! It's cold!
It came right from the North Pole!
How did Santa answer them so fast?
He's a fast guy!
Oooh! It's dripping!
Wow! I never got a letter from Santa before!
We all rushed to the carpet where I speedily handed out the letters. I pulled each one out with a flourish, sending silver glitter fluttering to the ground over the students' heads. Miss Hillary, what is that?
With a big grin and a twinkle in my eye, I answered them. "It's MAGIC!"
As the kids got their frozen letters, they all buddied up to read, passing them around and comparing them.
Santa is really busy making toys, so he got his elves to write to us!
Hey look! My elf's twin brother wrote to my friend!
These MUST be real because he answered all my questions!
Oooooh! The raindeers fly using magic flying powder!
Phew! Santa says I'm on the nice list!
Hahaha! My elf's name is "Stinky!"
Here, look at mine! Can I read yours?
[while clutching her letter to her heart:] I LOVE SANTA!!!
The kids spent about ten minutes passing their letters around and reading. (And you have to understand that for my class, to have them that engaged for that long is a nothing short of a miracle!)
I couldn't let the magic end there, though. I know that some of these kids don't really do anything for Christmas, and a few won't have many gifts this year because their families just don't have the money. Santa had to make one last visit...
When the children arrived on Friday, there was a new set of snowy footprints all throughout the classroom - from the door, over to the chart stand, over to the Christmas tree, and back out again. There was a new note, the tree was covered in snow, and there were nineteen gifts wrapped up and laying underneath the tree.
This time there were no doubters.
Santa came AGAIN!!!
And he left us presents!
What IS this stuff?
But it's not melting!
Miss Hillary, those are YOUR footprints!
Put your foot in them, let me see!
... Oh! They're bigger than your feet!
Miss E [my special ed worker], try your foot.
It's not hers, either! That proves it MUST be Santa!
This is the very first present Santa ever gave me!
Oh, this is the best day of my LIFE!
After reading the note and handing out the gifts, the kids tore into them to find the biggest candy canes they had ever seen. These must have come from the candy cane forest at the North Pole! I didn't need to do anything to create the magic this time - they did it on their own. Stories and theories swirled about how Santa could have gotten into our classroom without a chimney (maybe he came through the walls, maybe the janitor let him in, maybe he came through the mouse hole [er, the mouse hole?!?! It's now been filled.]). They talked about how fast Santa's sleigh must be and about how cold the North Pole is. And I sat back and watched, loving every minute.
It's been a while since I've been able to see Christmas in that magical child-like way. It has significance every year for me because of that very first gift that was given long long ago, of course. But there's another aspect of Christmas that I have not seen for a while, and that's the magic, the innocence, the wonder of it all. Impossibility made possible. Childlike faith in someone that can't be seen.
Or then again, maybe it's really been there all along. Maybe that's what Christmas is all about, even for us adults. Childlike faith in a gift too good good to be true, and yet! There He lies wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. God become man to dwell, to die, to deliver. Impossibility made possible. What a gift we've been given.
As a very wise elf said in her letter to one of my students, "Whoever believes in Christmas will always have magic."
How right she is!