Santa Claus approached our vehicle, twinkle-eyed and rosy-cheeked.
If he wasn’t the real deal, he sure fooled our kindergartner, Nayvie, who gushed as she peered through the car window at the beard, jingle bells and white ball on his crimson-red hat.
Visiting Santa wouldn’t likely happen this year, we told Nayvie and her two older sisters weeks ago, compliments of COVID-19.
Then we learned that healthcare workers at our local hospital organized a drive-thru event for kids.
Never mind the car door separating them. Never mind it wasn’t at the mall. There he was, in all his splendor, an arm’s reach away. The Big Man. Father Christmas.
Nayvie lit up like a Christmas tree.
“Hi,” she said from behind her mask before I could roll her window down fully. My wife, Nicki, pulled the mask down so Nayvie could talk business: presents, a candy cane and a sugar cookie just for her.
Seeing Santa was an unexpected delight for our three elementary-aged daughters, who tell us Christmas feels a little different this year.
“Was COVID here last year?” Nayvie asked on the way to school last week.
They might not know it, but our girls have been relatively lucky this holiday season. Unlike thousands of kids across the Treasure Valley — and millions more across the country — our girls have been in school full-time this December.
Last week, they enjoyed four days of festivities, from crazy-hair day to wear-your-clothes-backward day. Their backpacks brimmed with treats, crafts and little gifts from their teachers and friends.
We’ve still felt the impacts of a lingering pandemic. Nicki and I recently watched the girls’ school Christmas program from cell phones in the kitchen.
A hundred kids belting “I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ for Christmas” lacks its usual luster through tiny speakers. And it felt “weird” singing to an empty auditorium besides the “camera dude,” our third grader told us afterward.
Our crazy schedule has also diminished our usual emphasis on the holidays. We’re still in-between houses. And last week, we welcomed our fourth daughter into the world.
Baylie Anne and Mom are happy and healthy. But new baby means less time with Mom — and more time with Dad — for the three others.
“Really, Devin?” Nicki asked after learning I let our first-grader wash down her waffle with a soda Friday morning.
She wasn’t supposed to tell.
Presents remain unwrapped in the garage as I write this.
“Get some presents under that tree,” my dad kindly chided me during a recent visit.
At least they’re in school, we keep telling ourselves. Last week, we learned that our neighboring school district will move to fully remote learning this week amid a rise in confirmed cases of COVID-19 among staff.
“Normally, the 22nd would have been used for Christmas parties,” the superintendent said. “One full, face-to-face school day on Monday, with the risk of staff and students taking the virus home for holiday, just isn’t worth it.”
Who knows, maybe more days away from school, drive-thru Santas and empty auditoriums will make this holiday season more memorable.
Compliments of COVID-19.