You may be one of those unfortunate people who were told a great falsehood at age 8 or so: that Santa Claus doesn't exist.
Ridiculous. Santa is very much alive, full of magic and mirth, and ... living in Maple Grove.
It's supposed to be the North Pole, I know. But that's a minor inconsistency in this otherwise truthful story.
You might also be surprised to learn that Santa wears a disguise and uses an alias so as not to attract attention. I'll let you in on the secret: If you've ever met Judi Schulz, you've seen the jolly elf in the flesh.
The Yang family of St. Paul discovered the truth about Santa, but it was a long time coming. In the hill country of Laos, parents Nor Tou and Lu Her Yang celebrated a kind of Christmas -- a cow was traditionally slaughtered for a special meal. But festivities were subdued. The Hmong were "hunted like animals" through the war-torn years when the Yangs lived there, says father Nor Tou. Not much talk of Santa in those days.
The Yangs found fresh hope when they arrived in America in 1988. But troubles piled up, especially after physical ailments compelled Nor Tou to stop working after 2000. With 11 children to feed, clothe and shelter, the family could only muster a 2-foot-high Christmas tree and hopes for a better new year.
But Santa has an eye for people like the Yangs. After learning about them through the Salvation Army's Adopt-a-Family program in 2005, Schulz went right to work to make Christmas merry that year and the next.
You may imagine Santa ho-ho-hoing in a state-of-the-art workshop amid a wonderland of prosperity. In fact, Schulz -- like many Americans -- doesn't have a lot to spare, though she has one of the largest hearts you'll ever encounter.
She couldn't afford a gift for every member of a family of 13, so she called in all her elves -- family, friends-of-friends, coworkers -- and raised dollars and cents till she had shiny packages for each Yang. The family's wish list always included basic necessities such as socks, shoes, blankets and towels as well as toys for the kids. Schulz found a way to purchase everything.
When she and her daughter, Roxann Schulz, delivered the gifts, they found the Yang clan waiting expectantly. "The little ones peeped out the door and the older ones jumped up and down," Shultz said. "They'd sit around the couch as we handed out presents. Last year, the little one -- May -- was at the end of the line. I could see her big eyes asking, 'Did you forget me?' 'Don't worry, honey,' I told her, 'it's coming.'"
Schulz had a different sort of gift for her granddaughter, Bailey, now age 6. "I want her to learn to have a kind heart," she said. So last year, she told Bailey all about the Yangs and their Christmas. "I said, 'Little May Yang is 5, too. I'm going to get her the same Hello Kitty cat that you have.'"
But here's another secret: Santa sometimes worries. This year, Schulz wasn't sure she could afford to help Christmas come at the Yang household, and she suspected that some of her "elves" couldn't either. Her three daughters would be here for the holiday, and her grandchildren too. But it looked as if her Christmas list would be a lot shorter this year than last.
Then on Thanksgiving, granddaughter Bailey ran up to Schulz with a gift in her hand. "I bought this for my adopted sister," she told her. "For who?" asked Schulz. "For May. It's a Hello Kitty like she wanted last Christmas. Didn't you say her favorite color was pink?"
"That's when I knew -- we had to do it," said Shultz. With trepidation, she called on her "elves" to come through one more time. Eighteen responded, including one who recently got hit with a big cut in pay. Together, they raised $600 for the Yangs' presents and Christmas dinner.
That's why on Saturday, Bailey got a unique gift from Santa: a chance to meet her "adopted sister" May, and to bring her a perfectly pink "Hello Kitty" bag.
Parents: Steel yourselves for truth-telling tonight. When your 8-year-old looks troubled and asks, "Is there really a Santa Claus," look the child straight in the eye and answer: "Yes. Santa is very real."
The part about Maple Grove? I'll leave that to your discretion.