This story first appeared in the December 20, 2000 issue of the weekly entertainment print publication ESP Magazine.
Jenny was awakened about ten o’clock on Christmas Eve by a noise coming from the living room downstairs. She knew that it was her mother and father putting the Christmas gifts under the tree and filling the stockings, so that in the morning they could claim it was all the work of Santa Claus. For a moment she laid in bed listening, huddling under the covers as the street light cast a cool glow through the window, illuminating a bedroom filled with dolls.
Indeed, the room had the appearance of a doll museum. Scattered around were Cabbage Patch Kids and Tickle Me Elmos. There were dolls that talked, dolls that wet, dolls that moved their arms and legs, dolls that cried, dolls that gurgled, and dolls that opened and closed their eyes. There was also every type of Barbie imaginable, even some that looked like Barbie but were not. In fact, there was every kind of doll a little girl could want except one. There was no plain and simple Raggedy Ann.
This was the first Christmas that Jenny hadnt believed in Santa Claus. She had quit believing earlier that year, when her best friend Becky McDonald returned from Christmas break with the story of how she’d caught her parents playing Santa on Christmas Eve. Looking back, little Jenny realized that she shouldn’t have been surprised, for there was something that had bothered her about the whole Santa thing for as long as she could remember.
It seems that every year she would sit on Santa’s lap, while her mother stayed back with Santas helper, who took pictures of her sitting on his lap. Every year the first thing on her list would be that she wanted a doll, because she was known for her collection and it was expected of her. She never told Santa exactly what kind of doll she really wanted, for she was a child and figured that he was magical. Santa would know that what she really wanted was a plain and simple little Raggedy Ann. But every year she was disappointed when he brought her the latest fad doll or the newest collectable Barbie. Now she knew why. Old Santa wasnt so magical after all, but was only a story that was being told to her.
At first she tried to tell her mother that she knew there was no Santa Claus, but Mom pooh-poohed her, told her she was being silly and denied that she played any part of being Santa Claus. Eventually, Jenny gave-in and pretended to believe again, even going so far as to sit on a department store Santa’s lap and recite her short list of a Little Mother Kitchen set, a pair of skates, and a CD player.
“And a doll,” her mother prompted. “Dont you want a doll, honey, like you always do?”
Jenny practically stared right through her mother.
“No!” she snapped. “I dont ever want another doll. I hate them!”
Now, it was Christmas Eve and she listened as her parents played Santa downstairs in the living room. After a moment, she slipped out of bed and, in her bare feet, made her way into the upstairs hall that was lit by a night light. Then, ever so gently, so as not to make a noise, she began creeping down the carpeted stairs that led directly into the room where her mother and father would be putting out Santa’s gifts, until she reached the point where she could bend at the waist and see into the room below.
What she saw was not her parents, but…
“Santa?” she asked tenuously, her voice betraying surprise.
Indeed, it was Santa, with his big red coat, long white beard and curly white hair. His back was turned, as he was busy filling the stockings that hung from the mantle, but he immediately turned to the sound of her voice and motioned her to silence with a finger to his lips before gesturing for her to come into the room.
After she finished coming down the stairs, he whispered in a way that only Santa could whisper, “You must be little Jenny?” When she nodded silently, he said kindly, “I understand that youve had trouble believing in old Santa this year?”
“Well…” she stammered, feeling silly.
“Never mind,” Santa replied and gave her a wink. “I understand the little McDonald girl has been talking…”
Jenny was speechless. She stood dumbfounded as Santa lumbered to the couch, sat down with a plop, and patted the cushion next to him as a way of inviting her to take a seat.
“I’ll tell you a little secret,” he said when she was comfortably seated. “Sometimes parents quit believing in me and think they have to do my job for me. When that happens, I let them, because as long as the children are happy, Santa’s happy.”
“Do you mean Becky’s parents quit believing in you?” Jenny asked.
Santa nodded. “Thats right, little girl. But they only pretended to be me because they love their children and didn’t want them to be hurt.”
“Oh,” Jenny said and sat in thoughtful silence.
“I’ll tell you another secret,” Santa continued. “As long as you believe in me, Ill be here every Christmas Eve for you.”
“Even when Im grown up?” Jenny asked disbelievingly.
“Even when youre grown up,” Santa promised. “In one way or another, Santa will be here.”
With that, he jumped to his feet and told her, “Now, run along to bed. Santa’s got work to do, and youre a growing girl who needs her sleep.”
She did as she was told and bounded up the stairs, stopping near the top to steal one last glance of Santa, but he was already gone. Except for the toys and gifts he had left, there was no sign that hed ever been there.
Thats when she saw it, peeking out at her from the top of one of the stockings hanging from the mantle, a plain and simple Raggedy Ann doll. It was the most perfect Christmas ever.