Once upon a time, in a land far away from sugar plums or even fairies of any kind, there was a little girl who asked Santa for a magic wand.
She asked him in a crowded mall, shyly expressing this One Truest Wish to a man whose fake white beard hung down a little too low and who chuckled and winked and promised her that wand.
When instead she got a piece of sequinned plastic — she knew real wands really looked like the magic white sticks conductors used to make music materialize from silence — she steeled herself and said a prayer to Santa. Surely Santa would hear her if she told him she understood. After all, he managed to know who was naughty and nice, and she always tried to be nice. The only naughtiness she engaged in was hiding chocolate chips in a cup in her walk-in closet next to the drawings on the wall in red crayon. She knew Santa would hear her. So she told him solemnly in the silence of her apartment bedroom, listening to the thump of the kids in the room upstairs from her, sure Santa would eventually take a break from his frenetic schedule to bring a real magic wand to this little girl. Alaska was pretty close to the North Pole. She’d wait.
When years passed and Christmases came and went and Alaska turned into Oregon and the wet greenness of a Portland winter, she was still waiting. There came more pressing problems than an unfulfilled promise from a jolly man in red.
She shared a room with her mother, a single rented slice of a house shared with another family. On the top floor, she could always hear the pitter-pat pitter-pat of the Portland rain. That rain pitter-patted its way through the shingles of the roof and down the edges of beams and girders, into insulation and through, through into drywall and plaster and pooled beneath paint until it puddled and pushed out and down…
…and fell onto her bed at night. The rain fell in, and it kept falling.
This little girl saw the world as a series of happenings, over which she had little control. She couldn’t stop that drip, but she could move her bed. Christmas was coming, and she knew what to do.
She didn’t get to meet Santa that year. No crowded, sweaty malls then. Instead she penned a letter on orange construction paper and sent it to Santa. He might not have brought her the wand he’d promised, but he was the only person for the job.
The letter asked, very simply, for Santa to please fix the roof so that the water would stop dripping onto her bed. She included that if he really wanted to bring a present, she supposed she’d fancy the pretty jeweled Polly Pockets she’d seen on TV. But really, what mattered was not getting wet while she slept.
What she didn’t know was that the Postal Service would see her letter and open it, as they did all letters to Santa.
She didn’t know that someone would take that piece of orange construction paper and put it in a different pile.
She didn’t know that someone would take that piece of orange construction paper and pass it on to a news anchor and the Oregonian newspaper.
She didn’t know that someone would hear her letter read aloud or see it in the paper and decide that he or she would be Santa that year.
She didn’t know that someone would pay to fix the roof above her bed.
And when a brown paper package addressed to her from Santa arrived at the house she and her mother shared with another family, she understood in that moment that her wand was never going to come. That the Santa she’d prayed to and asked for help didn’t inhabit the North Pole. She saw the package and knew that the jolly man with the too-loose beard couldn’t make dreams come true.
She did know something else. Inside that brown paper package was every Polly Pocket she’d asked for as an aside — plus the best one at all: a castle with a horse-drawn carriage and a scene that lit up when opened.
There might not be reindeer and elves at work far to the north, but she knew then that Santa was realer than that. He was a mother who put an ad in the classifieds to buy her Care Bears that were discontinued in stores. He was a stranger who hired workers to fix the roof above her head. He was a man across town who filled out her whole Christmas list and wrapped it up in brown paper.
The jolly man in red may not be real, but the spirit wears many, many masks.
That’s the real magic of the holidays. You don’t even need a wand to make it work.
Student of history. Gamer. Language nerd. Displaced Celt. Emmie spends at least an hour a day preparing for or thinking about the zombie apocalypse. Future calamity notwithstanding, Emmie hunts stories in dark alleys and in stone circles and spends most nights listening for something that goes bump. Emmie lives outside D.C. with her husband, a husky puppy who talks too much, and a tabby who thinks she’s a tiger. She is currently mucking up the lives of demon-hunters and mythology professors for her current projects. Emmie is represented by Jessica Negrón of Talcott Notch Literary Services. Emmie is also the editor and Grand Pooh-Bah of Searching for SuperWomen, a geek hub focused on furthering the conversation about the role of women in geekdom and loving awesome things in the process.