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Tales from the Motherhood in Batavia: Incognito Santa kindles Christmas spirit of generosity

“That was Santa!” my daughter whispered one December afternoon 10 years ago as a white-bearded man pushing a grocery cart ambled past us in the ice cream aisle, where Holly and Noah debated about whether to buy sherbet or ice cream. “He had toys in his cart,” she said, wide-eyed. “Let’s follow him!”

“He did? Awesome! Let’s go,” I replied, and spun the cart around. Eight-year-old Holly eagerly clung to the side.

“He’s got a white beard. I saw him. But he’s wearing camouflage, Mom,” she whispered, concerned.

“Maybe he’s trying to blend in. You know, disguise himself?” I suggested.

“Don’t follow him,” she implored, but it was too late. Toys in his cart? I jogged a few feet away to get a better look. The kids feigned interest in a rack of bargain-priced earmuffs as I got a gander at Holly’s would-be Santa.

Long, white beard, check. 

Big belly, check. 

Toys? Nope, the only stuff in this dude’s sleigh were two packs of Diet Coke.

“Could Santa be trimming his tummy?” I wondered. Holly shrugged, but I could see the wheels turning. Her questions about the jolly fellow’s existence recently had hit a fever pitch.

“Megan says Santa isn’t real,” she’d announced a few days earlier, as she settled into the back seat of the car after school.

“What do you think?” I asked. I studied her face in my rear-view mirror.

“I think he is,” she replied.

“Good for you,” I said.

As for Noah, my then 11-year-old, he’d been tracking Santa’s progress through the skies each Christmas Eve for several years via the NORAD Santa tracker, a website created by the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

When he and Holly were really little, we found “evidence” of Santa’s existence when one Christmas morning we discovered a white boot print on the hearth. A few years later, it was a piece of torn red cloth we saw stuck to the fireplace grate. The following year, sleigh bells were discovered on the front lawn.

“Do you believe in Santa?” I asked Noah after our cola-packing Santa sighting, as we headed somewhere in the car. (The best conversations still happen in the car, but I digress.)

“Yes,” he replied. I studied his face in the rear-view mirror. Nothing.

“Cool,” I said, stifling a giggle. Because by then, instead of writing letters to Santa, which Holly did with fervor, Noah simply taped newly edited versions of his Christmas list above my desk. This still cracks me up.

These days, Holly texts her wish lists to her dad and me, while Noah, cool customer that he is, simply feeds hints through his agent, an elf named Holly. True story. Oh, gone are the days when I wished I could take credit for the big-ticket items under the tree, but back then? I was in no hurry for my children to give up on Santa.

But really, why give him up at all?

There are dozens of biographies of St. Nicholas, a real man that accounts report was born around 270 C.E. in a village then called Patara (formerly Greek, now southern Turkish territory).

They consistently bear witness to the fact that Nicholas was and is a fine model for the compassionate life. Born into a wealthy family, his devout Christian parents reportedly died during his youth, leaving a generous inheritance.

Nicholas felt called to live simply and to share his wealth with the needy, but preferred to do so without attracting attention. In spite of his efforts to remain anonymous, a famous tale tells of his climbing into the upstairs window of a poor man’s home under the cover of darkness (so as to preserve the man’s dignity), where he tossed satchels of gold coins, enough for three dowries so the man’s daughters could marry, landing them in the daughters’ shoes and in their stockings which hung by the fire (inspiring ensuing traditions), ensuring the man’s daughters would be spared lives of prostitution.

Nicholas, eventually was appointed the bishop of Myra for his continued good works, and later dubbed St. Nicholas after somehow surviving religious persecution for his Christian faith. He lived to about age 73 and died Dec. 6, 343 C.E. During his long life and, by some accounts, even well after his death, St. Nicholas is said to have come to the aid of numerous children and others in need, doing many kind and generous deeds in secret – and, apparently, in spirit – while expecting nothing in return.

Doing good deeds, often anonymously, without expecting anything in return. Imagine that?

In spite of the co-opting of his legacy for commercial gain, folks of every stripe and walk of faith can appreciate Santa’s unimpeachable morals. So, for the sake of the kids, I gotta say, “Yes, there really is a Santa!” No need to be tongue-tied when faced with their questions, or feel we’re fibbing. After all, as I tell my children and my dear Mom always said to me, Santa is the spirit of loving and giving in our hearts.

That’s real enough for me.

[Author’s note to readers: An earlier version of this column first appeared in the Kane County Chronicle 10 years ago.]

Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her family. Her column runs regularly in the Best of the Fox section of the Kane County Chronicle. Contact her at

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