- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 25, 2004

Biblically speaking, the Christmas season has just begun. Traditionally, today is the second day of Christmas, on which we might expect to receive “two turtle doves.” Though, what we might do with them isn’t clear.

With 10 more days until the Epiphany, we ought to be toasting the season with a little wassail and spreading Christmas cheer as we visit friends and relatives, waiting for the arrival of the Three Wise Men.

But the garbage bags full of wrapping paper in my garage tell another story. Christmas appears to be officially over.

We can’t go visiting anyway. Everyone we know went to the mall to shop the after Christmas sales. The really savvy gift givers are returning the items they purchased on Christmas Eve and repurchasing them, just to get back the difference in savings.

Sadly, Santa himself is probably in the return line, taking back the Beatles retrospective four-disc compilation that even the most retro-teen found repugnant.

Christmas morning might have been a disappointment this year. That’s because the only child left in my house who sits on Santa’s lap pulled a fast one during her audience with the elf.

It was just a couple of weeks ago that we managed to fit in our traditional trip to the mall for haircuts and a visit with Big Man in the Red Suit. We’re standing in the rope line that winds itself behind the photographer’s kiosk, where, for only $29.95, you can have a 3x5-inch laser photo of your child with Santa. If you want him to look pleasant, it’s an extra $7.99.

We’re waiting and chatting, chatting and waiting. This is the moment when anything is possible — the cadre of potential toys and treasures is limitless. My daughter bats around the variety of things she could mention to Santa Claus.

We manage to avoid questions about how Santa makes name-brand toys and whether you have to send things back to the North Pole if they break, or just take them to Toys R Us for a refund.

At last, we’re near the front of the line. Only one little girl waits ahead of us. But what’s this? Santa rises from his throne, grabs his sack and walks down the hall toward J.C. Penney.

“Where’s he going?” my daughter asks in a panic.

“Santa’s just going up on the roof to feed his reindeer,” my husband explains.

“Looks like he’s got to go to the bathroom from the way he’s walking,” my son speculates.

“Santa doesn’t go to the bathroom,” the 7-year-old says. “He’s an elf.”

What follows is a brief conversation (because I cut it off before anyone else in line can hear us) about whether Santa does or does not use the facilities.

The Big Man ambles back, admittedly looking a bit more comfortable, and at last, it’s our turn for a visit.

That’s when my 7-year-old pulls a fast one. “I want a hamster,” she says. I look at Santa with a pained expression and shake my head, “no.”

Picking up on my message, he says, “Are you sure?”

“OK, not a hamster — a new puppy. Ours is 4 years old already — he’s not new anymore,” she reasons.

I shoot Santa a look that says, “Forget it.”

She quickly slips in a request for a Barbie Town House before saying “cheese” for the camera. Before we know it, we’re wandering the mall, holding tight to our overpriced 5x7 photo.

Santa didn’t bring a puppy — and he certainly did not bring a hamster (I’m already paying someone to eradicate rodents from my home. Why would I buy one and feed it?)

Santa didn’t bring the Barbie Town House, either. Barbie shares the town house with her “My Scene” contemporaries. Having dumped Ken earlier this year, she now runs with Madison, Chelsea, Hudson, River and Sutton. (These are names of fashion dolls as well as names of towns all across America). Their home is furnished with miniature household items.

Why didn’t Santa fulfill this request? Probably because he knows my daughter got an “Ear Piercing Barbie” for her birthday a few months ago, and he’s aware we still hear the sound of Barbie’s little metal earrings as they crackle their way up the hose of the vacuum cleaner every time we clean the house.

Santa also didn’t bring the Usher CD my son wanted. Santa knows a lot about boys and girls who are naughty, but Usher writes lyrics about them. Santa just couldn’t imagine a fifth-grade boy singing Usher’s “Bad Girl:”

“I’m ready to be bad

I need a bad girl (say yeah)

Get at me bad girl

What sexy lady’s comin’ home with me tonight?”

Santa didn’t bring any video games with “mature” ratings (“there’s nothing bad in them — they’re just violent”), nor did he pack in his sack the DVD collector’s edition of “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” Prada accessories or concert tickets.

And yet, it wasn’t disappointing at all.

Opening each gift, my children realized once again that Santa has an uncanny sense of what to choose. His presents aren’t suggested by ad campaigns but by the intimate way he knows each child’s heart.

Most of all, Santa brought our family a day to rediscover the magical power of generosity. Giving to each other transforms us into grateful beings, aware that we are blessed by the love we share and more importantly, by the promise of this holy season.

Thankfully, Christmas has just begun.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 17 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybethhicks .com) or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks@comcast.net.

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