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 Image credit Taryn

‘Tis the season for giving…or else.

“Seriously? A donation box?”

Mark pulled the parking brake on his family’s minivan. He scrubbed away the condensation that had gathered on his window. Through the foggy streaks, the Christmas lights of Candy Cane Lane shined brightly. He squinted his eyes at the donation box outside one of the most decorated houses, the grandest and most majestic of them all. There was a crowd at the donation box as other Christmas light searchers dutifully dropped a few dollars inside and went on their way. A man dressed in a Santa costume stood beside the box, jollily ringing a bell and ho ho ho’ing.

“Don’t be on the naughty list. Please help us pay Santa’s electric bill. Merry Christmas,” Mark read aloud the sign next to the donation box. He shook his head. “Oh, come on.”

“Santa? Lives here?” Three year old Tyler shouted from the back of the minivan. He squirmed to be released from his car seat.

“Don’t be silly. He wouldn’t live in a dump like this,” Sarah corrected from beside her younger brother.

Lucy unbuckled her seat belt to get a better view, stretching across her husband’s lap. “You can’t really blame them. Look at this place! It must’ve taken them forever to decorate it!” she exclaimed, the lights reflecting in her glasses.

Mark snorted. “I doubt anyone is forcing them to do this. They bring this mess on themselves.” He motioned to the traffic jam of cars and pedestrians crossing the crowded street. Other cars tried to slowly fight their way through the sea of people, their headlights turned off so as not to ruin the ambiance.

“And yet, here we are…right outside their house,” Lucy replied with a large grin and a wink. She turned around in her seat. “Okay, kids! Who’s ready for some Christmas lights?”

Tyler and Sarah cheered in unison. After locking the minivan and securing coats, hats and gloves, the family started down the hill of Candy Cane Lane.

“Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!” the Santa at the donation box exclaimed. His dark eyes shone brightly from behind his thick white beard. He motioned his large gloved hand to the house behind him. “Behold my beautiful abode, decorated just for your delight! Donations are appreciated! Ho ho ho!” He patted the donation box and then his belly.

“It’s so pretty…” Tyler whispered, staring in awe at the light displays, statues, inflatable slides and animatronic characters. The hum of thousands of Christmas lights crackled across the evening air, reverberating in their ears.

“Great work…let’s get going,” Mark grumbled, urging his family forward.

“Ho ho ho! Santa is going to have quite the utility bill, I hope he can afford it!” the Santa of Candy Cane Lane encouraged loudly.

“Dad!” Tyler whined. “We have to help Santa!”

Lucy started to rummage through her purse for spare change. Mark shook his head and motioned for her to keep going.

“No, Tyler – Santa is doing just fine,” Mark replied loudly, looking over his shoulder at the overflowing donation box of cash.

Santa stopped ringing his bell. He repositioned his large belly and announced, “Ho ho ho, Tyler’s dad is on the naughty list, it seems!”

Dad!” Tyler gasped in horror.

“Hey Santa, you have a nice evening, alright? Merry freaking Christmas,” Mark called back, waving dismissively.

“And you as well, Mark Hanson and family!”

Mark stopped. Lucy paused and studied his face.

“Did he just say your full name? Do you know him?” she whispered. Mark shook his head.

“And Sarah! I hope your dad hasn’t ruined your chance at that bike!” Santa continued happily, nodding at passerby’s who dutifully dropped change in the donation box. He rang his bell rhythmically, his head bopping along with the Christmas tunes playing in the background.

Sarah’s mouth dropped open. Her eyes began to well with tears as she stuttered wordlessly. Lucy knelt down to hold her daughter. She turned to Mark with eyes on fire. “Fix this. Now,” she commanded.

Mark sighed and turned around. He walked back to Santa, who was now avoiding eye contact. “Look, I see what you’ve got going on here. Nice little scam. Maybe I’ll put up a few lights in my yard next year and see if I can make a few bucks. But you don’t need to get dirty about it. Apologize to my kid, alright?”

“Ho ho ho! I hope you have a house to go back to!” Santa bellowed happily.

“What…did you just say?”

“Accidents can happen, you know! Just ask Rudolph!”

“Oh, drop the act – “

“Would be a shame for something terrible to happen! And right before Christmas!”

Mark straightened his coat. “Are you threatening my family?” he said quietly.

Santa’s beady eyes turned back to Mark. He stopped ringing his bell. “Last year, December’s electric bill was almost four hundred dollars!” he shouted. “Ho ho HO!”

“Alright…alright,” Mark huffed, grabbing his wallet from his coat. He muttered to himself as he shuffled through the bills, holding up several dollars in front of Santa’s face, then stuffing them inside the bulging donation box. He returned back to his family and ushered them further down Candy Cane Lane.

“Thatta boy, Mark! And…Merry Christmas!”

THE END

Editor’s note:

Any Santa portrayed in this story is purely fictional. The real Santa would never be so lame.

And I do sincerely wish you a wonderful, very merry Christmas!