NORTH ANDOVER, Mass.—The place is a small Armenian church named after St. Gregory located at the junction of a busy crossroad downtown. Inside, a congregation of children and adults are celebrating their traditional Christmas party, preparing for a visit from Santa.
Tables sagging with food before have gotten a respite after lunch. An earlier service in the sanctuary had a particular solemnity to it this Sunday when Pastor Karekin Bedourian put his usual formalities aside to pay respect to the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Like every church in the community, its population arrived reeling with emotion. Candles were lit for the 26 victims, including the 20 children. Prayers uttered. Feelings shattered.
Downstairs in a vacant room, away from the hubbub, Santa was getting prepared for his grand entrance. He’s impersonated the role before, for maybe 40 years or so. Over that time, he has encountered every situation from every child, whether request for toys, a missing parent, or restored health to an ill patient.
“Merry Christmas,” he roared, making his way through the front door with a sack full of gifts. “A big ho-ho to you all.”
With the sweat from a velvet costume rolling down his eyes and fogging his glasses, he took his seat on a throne beside a decorated tree and greeted all on-comers. There were the suspicious ones and others more complacent, awed by their own naivety.
At a time when electronic games and gadgets are in rich demand, the children took their place on Santa’s knee with their predictable requests.
There were no Red Rider BB Rifles like Ralphie longed for in “A Christmas Story.” Matter of fact, toy guns were not mentioned this day. Nor were violent video games and Transformers that blow up the universe.
The list was far more benign; it included iPods, iPods, laptop computers, and cell phones. Digital cameras were in. Legos and Barbie dolls were on the outs. Not one boy asked for a bike. Not one girl requested a make-up kit.
They spoke to Santa in a vernacular that reflected Twitter, blogs, and Facebook.
One by one, they took their turn like a scene from Macy’s Department Store. No doubt, Santa is a Christmas creature by whom children are sometimes confused, often amused, but never refused.
Finally, one young boy of 8 or 9 took his turn on Santa’s lap with a most unusual request. By this time, the jolly old fellow was drowning in his own perspiration.
“Santa, can you do anything? Can you perform miracles?”
“If I can deliver gifts to children around the world, fly with reindeer, squeeze through chimneys, and never go sliding off rooftops in the snow, I would say that’s being special.”
The child raised his head and looked me in the eye.
“Can you bring back those dead children from that school so they can enjoy Christmas like us? If you can’t, then can you bless them?”
The youngster wanted nothing more than solace amid his own personal grief on this Christmas. No mega toys. No luxury items. Nothing that would make him any happier than to see his own peers restored among the living.
He waited for an answer.
“Santa has a greater power above himself,” I told the boy. “He can surely relay that message to God and provide for them in His own way. He can make sure they’ll all be spouting their angel wings this Christmas.”
“Now, is there anything I can bring for you?”
“Nope, that’s it. That’s all I want,” he said, and quickly hopped onto the floor, vanishing into the crowd.
The hugs were a little harder and longer this year. Feelings were put to a more difficult test this time around. The twinkle in Santa’s eye was replaced by a tear.
At a time when America is spinning with remorse, mourning these senseless deaths, let Christmas come. Put out an extra signpost for Santa. Have the energy to attend some religious service and hold a silent vigil of your own.
Your greetings speak of “peace on earth.” Let that be our guiding light toward human kindness.