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Noting that her 11-year-old brother was composing his Christmas list, my 9-year-old daughter felt to offer him the following advice, “Here’s my strategy. Make sure that the thing you want the MOST costs LESS than everything else on your list. Then you’ll probably get it.”

My son enthusiastically adopted his sister’s strategy and added several ultra-expensive items to his list.

My kids pretty much have Santa’s number and work every angle possible to persuade him to be a little less thrifty. But when the lists start getting unreasonable and it’s time to throw in a little perspective, I remind my kids about the Christmas Santa came early.

The year 2009 was one of significant financial difficulty for our family. The last few months of the year found us struggling to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, so coming up with extra cash for Christmas was daunting at best.

I explained to the kids that Santa had been hit very hard by the recession, but their comprehension of Santa’s economic difficulties differed widely according to age. My two older sons (ages 8 and 12) offered to split one Lego set between them. My 14-year-old daughter didn’t ask for a single thing, nor did my 4-year-old son, who simply enjoyed the lights and excitement. And my sweet 6-year-old daughter had but one request: a real live puppy.

Although I was glad for the opportunity to focus almost exclusively on the real meaning of Christmas, I struggled with feelings of melancholy throughout the month.

And because I’m a writer, I wrote some sugar-coated blog posts about what was going on.

I left the house early on Christmas Eve morning to run a few last-minute errands. As I pulled into the garage right before 9 a.m., I saw four pairs of legs hopping up and down (the fifth pair, belonging to my 14-year-old, was still in bed).

“Mom! Santa came early! Santa came early!”

The kids, all talking at once, anxiously pulled me into the living room to see the huge pile of gifts that had been deposited on our doorstep shortly before my return home. The accompanying note said:

“Merry Christmas!! Love, Santa (P.S. Sorry that I had to deliver so early — with all the good boys and girls I had to get a head start!)”

I stared in disbelief. Santa hadn’t consulted with me or my husband (as is his usual custom), so we were completely baffled.

The kids had already arranged the gifts into piles according to recipient, and they spent the better part of that day speculating — i.e. shaking the gifts, weighing them, holding them to their ears and the like. I spent the better part of that day reminding the kids that the gifts were to stay firmly wrapped — no “accidentally” torn edges or missing pieces of tape allowed.

And I did some speculating of my own.

There was an extra air of anticipation on Christmas morning, and it didn’t take long to begin opening gifts from Santa.

It didn’t take much longer for me to begin crying.

It’s a given that Santa is all-knowing, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when each gift being opened was perfectly suited for the child opening it. But I was most definitely surprised — it was simply uncanny. And then, as one of my sons opened a tennis racquet and bag of tennis balls, it hit me:

Santa had read my blog!

As I watched each present being opened, I realized that I could link that gift to something I had mentioned in a blog post.

Here’s a sampling of what unfolded (this is far from a comprehensive list — Santa’s generosity was truly astonishing):

I had written about my 14-year-old daughter: is unstoppable in the kitchen and asks for a Jamba Juice every time we drive by the store.

Santa gave her a cookbook and a Jamba Juice gift card.

I had written about my 12-year-old son: loves to read and enjoyed participating in an air soft war at a scout camp.

Santa gave him a book and an air-soft gun.

I had written about my 8-year-old son: loves soccer and has expressed an interest in tennis.

Santa gave him a soccer ball and a tennis racquet.

I had written about my 8-year-old daughter: wants a puppy and her little brother steals her Webkins.

Santa gave her a giant cuddly stuffed puppy and an adorable WebKin pony.

I had written about my 4-year-old son: steals sister’s WebKins and loves trucks.

Santa gave him a dinosaur WebKin and a giant truck.

I was completely overwhelmed and spent the remainder of the day fighting back tears. 

I could only imagine the time and expense Santa must have spent on behalf of each individual member of my family. It felt like someone had given me a gigantic hug, looked me in the eyes and said, “I know your family, and I love your family.” At a time of significant stress and uncertainty, that was exactly what I needed.

The love and concern behind each gift meant even more than the gifts themselves.

Santa has never revealed his identity. But I hope he knows how much magic, joy and wonder he brought into our home that Christmas.

We will never forget.