Since Acorn will be with his father Christmas morning, Santa made a special visit to our house Friday night/Saturday morning.

Friday night I read the poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (more usually known by its first line, “‘Twas the night before Christmas”) to Acorn. Saturday morning he woke a bit earlier than usual. I heard him stirring and went in to check on him. “Santa was here?” he asked sleepily.

“Yes, he was,” I said. And a joyous day dawned.

A week or so before, I had taken Acorn to visit a mall Santa Claus. He spoke very quietly with Santa, and I couldn’t hear most of what was being said, except that he told Santa he wanted a train; Santa couldn’t get Acorn to name anything else he’d like for Christmas; and, apparently mistaking him for an older child, Santa tried fruitlessly to suggest that Acorn might like something besides toys for Christmas. “No, just a train.”

Afterwards, I asked Acorn what he had asked Santa to bring. “A blue and grey train,” he told me. That was the single thing he asked for. I assumed it was a Thomas train, and asked if he knew the train’s name, but Acorn didn’t know. I tried looking for a blue and grey train among the Thomas engines, but I couldn’t find one. In the end, I shrugged it off as a mystery and didn’t worry too much about it.

Until Santa time. After we’d read the classic poem about Santa’s visit. After I’d tucked an overtired Acorn into bed. After I retrieved all the gifts from the closets where they’d been hidden and arrayed them on the floor, and sat down to play Santa. Then I saw it: a blue and grey train, with three cars.

My mother and I had been shopping at a discount gift store, the kind that sells overstock from other places, sometime in the weeks before Thanksgiving. We found gifts for various nieces and nephews, cousins and grandchildren. And a few things, mostly some books, for Acorn. We arranged to keep these secret from Acorn by taking two carts; one held Acorn and our coats and handbags, the other our intended purchases, which we shielded from his view.

Acorn saw a couple of things he wanted enough to ask for, but he’s more relaxed about disappointment than the typical three-year-old. Oh, he’ll ask why he can’t have whatever it is he wants, but 99% of the time he accepts a “no” and moves on. It was that way this time with the remote control helicopter. With the overpriced toy firehouse. With the enormous plastic cement mixer.

But not with the blue and grey train. We’d have snuck that into our cart regardless, but he threw a fit wanting that train. He yelled about how much he wanted that train. Not having enough money was not an acceptable reason. He cried. Finally I was able to convince him to come to the bathroom with me, and he leaned his head against my shoulder, exhausted with longing, when I lifted him from the cart.

And he didn’t ask for that train again. Didn’t mention it, in fact, for another six weeks: not until I told him to sit on Santa’s lap and tell Santa what he’d like him to bring for Christmas. “A blue and grey train.”

I remembered buying the train, of course; but I had forgotten what colour it was. Now it was staring me in the face. The train was originally to be a gift from my parents, not from Santa, but with it being the only thing he asked Santa to bring… We rearranged our plans for which gift would be from whom.

And on Saturday morning, our Christmas morning, the first thing Acorn saw was his blue and grey train. His whole world, all that morning, was filled with that train; even as he opened and admired other gifts, he kept returning to the train. The only thing he had asked Santa for. The train we didn’t have enough money for when he saw it at the store (as he later explained to his grandfather). Santa came through. And my son just had his first experience with a Christmas miracle.

Until now, I was a little bit torn about the whole Santa business. It felt like I was manufacturing a pretense; and though it’s a strongly supported pretense culturally, the whole thing just felt strange to me. Encouraging my son to believe in a myth, rather than simply telling him about the traditions surrounding exchanging gifts this time of year.

Now, though, I see the power of this story. It’s a little bit of magic that we, as adults, can make real in the lives of our children — for just a few years. Mama and Gran-Gran couldn’t afford to buy that train, but when Acorn asked Santa for that one thing, Santa made it appear. To him, that makes the train a tiny bit more special than it would be if it came from me, either now or back when he first wanted it so badly.

And to me, that light in his eyes and contentment in his whole body language is all the Christmas magic I need.

I am a participant in Holidailies 2007.