The Paper Bag Christmas


By Kevin Alan Milne

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Dr. Christopher Ringle is the last person you’d expect to find moonlighting as Santa Claus at the mall on the day after Thanksgiving. But it is there that he meets a young man named Molar Alan, who desperately needs a new perspective on the underlying value of Christmas. Dr. Ringle recruits Mo and his older brother as volunteers at a nearby children’s hospital for the holiday season. At the hospital, Mo is tasked to help bring holiday cheer to the young cancer patients on the fifth floor. His biggest challenge is befriending a decidedly angry girl who is so embarrassed by her scarred appearance that she hides her face behind the safety of a paper bag. Almost in spite of himself, Mo finds that Christmas joy emanates from a source far greater than the North Pole, while the young girl learns that she is more beautiful than she had ever imagined.


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Table of Contents


Copyright Page

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To my wife Rebecca, without whom

I'd have very little.

And also to my father and mother—thanks

for not naming me Molar.


Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home!

—Charles Dickens

Two words: "Merry Christmas"; or perhaps "Happy Christmas" if such fits your geographic predilection. Two words so full of promise but all too often relegated to commonplace by the jingling bells of wanting that accompany the season. Yet for those most fortunate few who stumble across its underlying significance, "Merry Christmas" becomes a treasure trove of goodwill—a miraculous gift waiting just beyond the oft-hollow words, to be opened and enjoyed by all who comprehend it.

To fully understand the inherent goodness of the occasion, you must first experience a real Christmas. When that occurs it becomes far more than just another holiday or a prolonged shopping spree. Christmas becomes a part of you, an ideal, and a desire to put the happiness of others ahead of your own. It becomes, in short, a paper bag.

A paper bag? Yes, precisely. But not just any paper bag, mind you. It becomes a weathered, wrinkled, dirty paper bag, the kind you'd just as soon throw out with yesterday's trash if you didn't know its history. A paper bag so soiled and lowly that it could only be used for one final purpose: as a lasting and irreplaceable reminder of why we celebrate at all.

Sadly, only a lucky few will ever encounter the likes of a real Christmas and the lasting joy it brings. Fewer still are lucky enough to know firsthand about the paper bag.

I am one of the lucky ones.

The day after Thanksgiving in 1980 marked the beginning of my first real Christmas. As a nine-year-old boy I had certainly celebrated the revered holiday plenty of times before, but that particular Christmas was the first one that really mattered. It was the type of experience that makes you wish Christmas was celebrated all year long, the kind that makes people forget about life's imperfections and focus instead on its greatest treasures. For me it was a defining moment, one that has shaped and molded the very fabric of my soul.

I'M MOLAR ALAN, and this is my story. It is as real to me as the Santa of my youth, and I share it with an enduring hope that you will carry its message beyond the realm of reindeer, elves, or toys and embed it deep in your heart where the distractions and disappointments of life can't enter, where the worldly can look but not touch, and where the rich in spirit can come and go at will.

As with many Christmas stories, mine began on Santa's lap. But this was no ordinary Santa, and he had anything but an ordinary lap.

Chapter 1

I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.

—Shirley Temple

With Thanksgiving dinner less than twelve hours gone by, the house still smelled of pumpkin pie and green bean casserole. Mellow sounds of Bing Crosby drifting in from the record player in the parlor blended happily with the cheers of football fans roaring from the television in the living room. Food, Bing, and football: the Christmas season had officially begun, in all of its holiday glory.

My brother and I were knee deep in leftover turkey sandwiches when my parents entered the kitchen. "Let's go, guys," said my father excitedly as he pulled on his rain slicker and joined us at the counter. "It's time to go see the big man!"

"Grandpa?" I asked as I wiped a smudge of mayonnaise from my cheek.

"No, not that big man. The other one. The big man in the big red suit!"

"Oh no," I mumbled.

"Oh yes! We're going to see Santa Claus!" He let the name roll slowly off his tongue for dramatic effect.

Our lack of excitement didn't seem to bother him.

"Do we have to?" asked my brother Aaron. "I mean, aren't we too old for that?"

Aaron was two years older than me and had long since figured out that the Santa Claus at the mall wasn't the real Santa Claus.

"Besides," Aaron continued, "if there was a Santa Claus, I'm sure he wouldn't spend his Thanksgiving vacation at a mall in Oregon where it's always raining. He'd be down in Florida or somewhere nice. So why should we even bother?"

"I disagree," said my mother as she strode across the room. "He would be… I mean he is in Oregon enjoying this rain. In fact, he has to come here over Thanksgiving so he can pick up his reindeer! Get it? Rain deer."

We got it but didn't give her the satisfaction of a laugh. "That's right boys," piped Dad. "Besides, it's tradition to tell Santa what you want for Christmas. And if you break tradition, you might not get what you want this year. Now go put on your coats. We want to beat the holiday rush."

BY THE TIME we arrived at the mall all thoughts of beating the holiday rush were replaced by a desperate hope that we could simply find a parking spot. Inside was no better. People swarmed around from store to store laden with their bags and boxes and precious things.

The line to see Santa stretched nearly three hundred feet, from a small wooden cabin in the middle of the mall right on past a store that sold nothing but socks. A large hand-painted sign across the cabin doorway read, "The Santa Shack: A Little Taste of the North Pole." Apparently the North Pole tastes like candy canes because elves in sparkling green tunics and dark purple tights paraded around the tiny structure handing them out to every man, woman, and child who entered.

Another elf stood alone near the end of the line. He was handing out red pieces of paper and pencils to each of the children as they approached the growing queue.

"What's this for?" I asked when he handed me a paper.

"It's for yous guys to make a list to give to Santi Claus, little boy." The man spoke through a broken smile as he lowered himself down to look me straight in the eyes.

"You talk funny," I said. Although I was nine, I had not yet figured out how to keep my brutally honest thoughts to myself.

"That right?" he laughed. "Well yous should know that back in da Bronx, you'd sound funny too."

"Sorry Mister," I offered. I was glad he didn't take it personally. "So how come we have to write our list down? Can't we just tell him when we get up there?"

"We figure since yous guys gonna be here in line a while, you might as well make good use of da time, ya know? That way you don't have to think of nothin' to say to da big man when it's your turn, 'cuz it'll already be on your list. Just hand him your paper and move along. Got it?"

I nodded.

"Good." He ruffled my hair with his hand as he stood up. "Merry friggin' Christmas," he added.

I looked at the paper and read the title at the top of the page: "All I Want for Christmas Is…" Other than those few words, the paper was full of blank lines, three columns wide on both the front and back—perhaps enough to write down every toy and gadget I'd ever seen in my entire life.

My parents asked the man how long the wait was.

"Well," he said as his eyes darted back and forth between the crowded line and his wristwatch, "I ain't exactly timing it or nothin' 'cuz of my other important 'sponsibilities." He held up the stack of paper and a fistful of pencils. "But I'd say about an hour, maybe more. Course, yous guys need to keep in mind that at twelve o'clock sharp, jolly ol' Saint Nick up there's gonna take a break for two hours. If you ain't seen him by then, it's just your bad luck."

Mom and Dad decided they would leave us in line by ourselves while they did some shopping for "some very important people" who remained nameless. Aaron was left in charge even though I felt more than competent in my ability to take care of myself at the mall. So there we were, two brothers stranded at the end of what seemed like an endless line, waiting for our chance to hand over our Christmas lists to some stranger dressed up as Santa Claus.

With nothing else to do, we began filling in the blanks on our papers. At first the list was easy to write as my desires poured onto the page like Oregon rain on a winter's night. But after a short while the task proved to be more difficult than either of us would have thought. The top item on my list was an Air Jammer Road Rammer, a sleek yellow and black toy car that ran solely on the power of hand-pumped air. It was undoubtedly the hottest toy of the year, based on the frequency of its commercials during Saturday morning cartoons. Next I wrote a pogo stick, a glow-in-the-dark yo-yo, some stickers, and a rubber-band gun.

After that I had to think a little harder. I reasoned that Santa would likely start at the top of my list and then work his way down, so I began ordering my desires based on how much joy I anticipated each item would bring me during the upcoming year. The list continued but at a much slower pace: a dog, a new baseball glove, sea monkeys, a…

"Aaron, how do you spell trampoline?" I asked.

"Just like it sounds, dumbo. T-r-a-m-p-o-l-l-e-e-n." I could tell he liked that idea, too, because he wrote the word on his list while he spelled it out.

Within a few minutes the expanse of my youthful mind became so empty that I had to seek ideas in the world around me in order to keep the list growing. I saw one boy with a ring-pop lollipop on his finger. Bingo! Ring pop was added to my list. Another boy had a neat hat, a girl was bouncing a rubber ball, and a man walked by carrying a new set of roller skates for some lucky child. Each item was quickly jotted down.

Then out of the corner of my eye I saw the jackpot, the mother lode of Christmas goodies: a toy store! It had more items in the window than I could count. Action figures, stuffed animals, puzzles, games, cards, cars, Slinkies, and Silly Putty were all there. Everything I could ever want all packaged nicely under one roof, and each item made it on to my list. Before long my paper was filled with a splendid array of childhood accessories, sufficient to bring even the most spoiled of children countless hours of delight.

Once we were close enough to Santa's Shack, we saw that the kids were doing just as the Bronx-elf had instructed. One by one they went in and handed their lists to Santa. He looked each list over briefly, gave the child a few parting words and a healthy "Ho, ho, ho," and then they were done.

For some reason no one was allowed to sit on Santa's lap. A few parents grumbled that his ample waistline was off-limits, but most were just glad to get through the ordeal and be done with it for another year.

As we neared the entrance I began to get anxious. My parents had not yet returned and it was almost twelve o'clock. In just a few minutes Santa was going to take a break from his merrymaking, and if we weren't through the line by then we wouldn't be able to hand him our lists for at least another two hours.

When we finally reached the doorway of the Santa Shack, we found ourselves standing next to a tall blonde elf wearing red lipstick, purple high heels, black fishnet stockings that matched her black leather skirt, and a green V-neck jumper to top it all off.

"Where do they find these people?" I snickered under my breath to my brother, who was staring at the woman in disbelief.

"Shhhh!" he hissed. "I think she's a famous actress from a soap opera or something."

"No way. Why would a famous person be in charge of the line to see Santa Claus?"

"Well," he thought, "maybe it's charity work."

I checked her out thoroughly once more. "Maybe."

"Um, excuse me, Ma'am," said Aaron breathlessly to the woman as he slicked back his hair. "The elf at the back of the line is from New York. Are you by any chance from California? Hollywood perhaps?"

A rush of excitement coursed through us as the blonde elf turned to look, first at my brother, then at me. I smiled wide as our eyes met, but the thrill of the moment was over before it even began. She gave us both an unsavory stare, curling her upper lip and rolling her eyes just enough to show her disdain. Then, without so much as a single word, she returned to what she had been doing before our verbal intrusion, which was noisily chewing gum while watching the seconds tick away on a nearby clock.

Inside the cabin, the little girl who was ahead of us in line had just finished her brief interlude with Santa when the tall blonde finally found something to say. "Lunch time!" she shouted. "That's it kids! Come back in two hours!"


On Sale
Oct 29, 2008
Page Count
160 pages
Center Street

Kevin Alan Milne

About the Author

Kevin Alan Milne earned an MBA at Pennsylvania State University. Born in Portland, Oregon, Milne grew up in the nearby quiet country town of Sherwood, Oregon. He now resides in Brentwood, California. This is his first novel.

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