We didn’t see Santa at the mall this year. He wasn’t ringing a bell outside of Macy’s or riding on a float in the parade. This year, my kids met Santa at the Max train station, and he was homeless and hungry and cold.
Christmas is my favorite. Ugly Sweater parties, decorating, making gingerbread men cookies, or shopping for the perfect present; I love it all. Getting to experience the holiday’s with my three kiddos makes it even more special. Since this is our first Christmas in Portland, there are a lot of new festive experiences to have and traditions to make. On this particularly chilly evening, we were headed to our city zoo to see the billions of colored lights strung all around the park. To add to the adventure (and avoid a traffic headache), we had decided to take the Max.
We spent way too long getting ready. Two layers of clothes on five people meant ten outfits plus warm socks, five pairs of matching gloves, and beanies. By the time we were all ready, we were also bordering on heatstroke. We waddled our warm, padded bodies to the minivan and drove to the Max station. The stroller was full with a sleeping toddler and all the extras we might need on our outing piled high. We had extra diapers, an extra pair of gloves, an extra jacket for the already sweating two-year-old, and lots of snacks for the whole family.
As we waited at the station, chatting about the apple pie waiting for us back at home, an older gentleman quietly walked passed us and stopped at the ticket kiosk. I noticed his longer white hair and toothless grin as he smiled and greeted my oldest son and daughter who were sitting nearby. His clothes were worn and I am sure he was cold as he fed his cash into the machine and waited for his ticket to print. Along with the ticket, his change in eight, $1 coins fell to the ground. He turned to meet our curious glances, and joked “Sounds like Vegas,” under his breath. I chuckled and smiled back. The stranger then took two of the gold coins and, to my total surprise, gave one to each of my kids. “These are for you. Put them in your piggy banks.” The kids were thrilled and, after a quick “thank you,” examined their treasure. I thanked the man repeatedly and offered some of our extra food. He quietly accepted the snacks and moved to the bench on the other side of the platform.
Our train came and we piled on, but I couldn’t get the white-haired gentleman out of my head. The big kids were still admiring the coins, comparing dates and details, and I wondered if they understood the value of the gifts they were tossing between their fingers. I leaned over to them and said, “You know, the man at the station was very generous and kind to give you those coins. I don’t think he had much money and there are probably a lot of other things he could have bought with them, like food or a warm drink or a train ticket for another day. These coins are a very special gift.” The kids looked back at me, nodded that they understood, and went back to playing.
Whether they realize it or not, my kids met Santa that night. He was generous and kind and gave selflessly without expecting anything in return. He simply wanted to make my kids smile. I hope I never forget that moment at the Max when, surrounded by my people, our extras and excess, Santa showed up to give a simple but valuable gift, and remind us of what it means to be truly generous and kind. May we all give joyously and selflessly like Santa, this Christmas.