Somehow, we remembered.  It must be a Christmas miracle.

Last year, a few of my friends from my support group were talking about getting their kids’ pictures taken with Santa at the mall.  Or rather, not getting them.  The lines, the looks, the sensory overload…it was all too much for their kids.

I blurted out, “I wish we could have our own Santa somewhere so your kids could get their pictures with him without worry.”

We were quiet for a moment.  Then a friend said “My sister-in-law has a Santa suit.  We could do it.”

“Someone remember this for next year.” I said.

And somehow…we did.

**********

Five of us started talking, and the plan began to come together in mid-November.  Instead of our monthly support group meeting, we’d have a holiday party for our families instead.  We’d hold it at our local community house for free, have pizza and drinks, and bring in some crafts and toys for the kids to play with.

Low key.  Joyous and simple, my friend said.

And of course, Santa.

I recruited my friend’s husband to play the role of Jolly Saint Nick.  He’s amazing with kids and has known Howie since he was a toddler.  He’s not a special needs dad, but he’s a very special dad.  If anyone could play Santa for our kids, it would be him.

The RSVPs from our support group friends flooded in.  We were expecting 60 people.  Thirty-five kids.

I got a call that morning from one of the moms in our group.  She was coming with her crew – her husband, her 11 year old daughter, and her 7 year old son, who has autism. She thanked us a hundred times for this.  Her son had never seen Santa – it’s always been too hard to get him out to see him at the mall – and her daughter still believes and wants to see him too.

She said we’ve made “Christmas exciting for her family again.”

I almost burst into tears on the phone.

**********

The afternoon of the party came and I was a nervous wreck.  I only had to bring the Hot Wheels cars, the crafts, and make sure Santa was there on time.  For some reason, I felt like so much was riding on this.  We were promising our friends so much – the ability to play and eat and talk to Santa on their own terms.  Could we pull it off?

We could.

**********

Let me tell you something.  Our kids…they are something special.

They walked into that room and somehow they knew it was a safe space.

A place to just “be”.

They sat on the floor and played with cars.  They built with blocks and made snowman crafts.  They played with what they wanted to play with. Ate when and what they wanted to eat.

My friends' kids playing with Hot Wheels Trio Blocks (photo used with their permission)

There were no meltdowns.  No “interfering behaviors”.  No “non-compliance”.

They were themselves.

I made the big announcement that Santa was in the building at 6pm.  You could feel the kids’ excitement as he walked into the room.

We had a special spot for Santa to sit in the back of the room for photos.  Tim set up his camera equipment to get that special shot.  Santa gave the kids “high-fives” and we had a seat next to him for the kids to sit in.  Not on him.

Because…we know.

Santa took his place and the kids made their way over to him in their own way.  Some rushed over and got in line.  Some moseyed their way over, checking out the scene.  Some hung back, going over if they felt like it.

Santa on their own terms.

No one was more excited to see Santa than my own Howie.  My little Jewish boy jumped up and down when Santa walked in.  He pulled me down and whispered in my ear: “Is Santa real or fake?”

“What do you think?” I said, holding my breath.  I didn’t know if he recognized my friend in the suit.

“I think he’s real.” he whispered back.  Good enough for me.

"I would like a green hot wheels car!"

"Is there one in Santa's bag?"

Hurray! It's a Christmas miracle!

We had kids get their pictures taken with Santa who had never been able to be in the same room with him before.

As my friend said: “Community house? Free.  Pizzas? $10 each.  Our kids’ smiles? Priceless.”

(my friend's son, photo used with her permission)

Ringing Santa's bell so wishes come true (my friend's son, photo used with her permission)

First great photo with Santa (my friend's son, photo used with her permission)

First time with Santa (my friend's son, photo used with her permission)

and my personal favorite photo:

My son, giving Santa a high five. Minutes after he told Santa "I celebrate Hanukkah."

I wish I had the words to describe the joy in that room that night.  Let’s just say that the kids were all full of awesome.

That night, a few of us went out for drinks.  One of my friends said she’s never seen her daughter that happy.

“She could just…be.”

Exactly.

There was no stress for our kids to be something else.  They were surrounded by acceptance and understanding and pure unconditional love.

The way the holidays are supposed to be.

**********

I have Santa signed on for next year already.  This Jewish girl saw the magic of Christmas and I will never ever forget it.

The moon is right
The spirit’s up
We’re here tonight
And that’s enough

Simply having a wonderful Christmas time
Simply having a wonderful Christmas time ” – Wonderful Christmas Time by Paul McCartney

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