Perhaps every culture has as a part of its holiday festivities the tradition of a meal with family members.

This year, my mom and my brother and I went to my Aunt Holly’s house for Christmas Eve dinner. Aunt Holly has five children, fourteen grandchildren, and four great grandchildren, as well as many friends and neighbors. She and her children and grandchildren had been cooking for days and the night of the celebration, the dining room was crowded with tables and folding chairs. That evening, about 30 people gathered to share food and memories. The oldest person there was 94 and the youngest was only four months old.

As you can imagine, the meal was both delicious and boisterous. Everyone was talking and laughing and enjoying the camaraderie. I got to visit with my cousin Valerie, whom I hadn’t seen for quite some time. Her husband, Alan, was seated at another table. He is a very quiet, slender person – in fact, he’s rather shy. At a point when the plates were being cleared, Alan stepped over to our table, looked at Valerie, and pointed meaningfully at his wristwatch. She nodded and said, “Okay” and got up to clear her plate.

“Oh, dear,” I said to my brother. “I guess Alan wasn’t having much fun. He wants to leave already.”

My cousin Jim said, “No, no, no. Wait a few minutes and you’ll see what’s happening.”

We went on talking and suddenly, the bedroom door burst open and Santa Claus appeared, dragging a large bag of parcels. “Ho, ho, ho!” he shouted, in true Santa fashion. “Merry Christmas, merry Christmas to all! Ho, ho, ho!” He was huge and his booming voice instantly captured everyone’s attention. He had a flowing white beard and the traditional red suit with a broad black belt around his prodigious mid-section. His red hat and his suit were trimmed in white fur. He looked as if he had stepped off the cover of a greeting card. The only thing that seemed out of place was that his eyes were hidden by dark-tinted ski goggles.

My first thought was that Aunt Holly had gotten a neighbor to play the part, but our jovial Santa seemed to know too much about the family to be a stranger. He called all the children by name and asked if they had done their chores as he handed out their gifts! The little ones were captivated, their eyes enormous as they thanked him, and the adults were laughing uproariously at his antics. I expected Santa to go on his way when the children had all received their gifts, but then he turned to the adults and began to call us by name too. Everyone got a present! (Mine was a game called “Last Word” – a very apt gift for someone as talkative and know-it-all as I can be!)

When Santa’s bag was finally depleted, he hollered “Merry Christmas! Ho, ho, ho! See you next year!” and exited with a dramatic wave, dragging his empty sack behind him to the sound of applause and children’s voices calling, “Goodbye, Santa!”

“Wow, what a show,” I said to Jim. “I hope Valerie didn’t have to miss it!” Valerie appeared behind me and laughed and said, “Oh, no! We always stay for Santa’s visit.” At that point, Alan emerged from the bedroom, his usual subdued self. I wondered if he had enjoyed the visit from Santa. Then I realized I hadn’t noticed him in the room amidst all the happy chaos. Was Alan so reserved that he had faded into the background, overwhelmed by Santa’s magnetic performance?

“Why was Santa wearing ski goggles?” I asked Jim. “Was it to protect his eyes from the wind as he’s driving his sleigh across the sky?”

Now my brother and my cousins were laughing at me. Jim said, “No, it’s so the children won’t recognize him. Santa is Alan!”

How could that be? That quiet, unobtrusive guest had delivered a loud, enthusiastic, and very believable rendition of Santa. He had charmed the children and adults alike and was totally believable as the jubilant personification of the spirit of giving.

There’s a line from the secular Christmas song about another seasonal character, Frosty the Snowman, who was built by children after a snow storm. The lyric says, “There must have been some magic in that old top hat they found, for when they placed it on his head, he began to dance around.” Maybe that’s what happens to Alan: There’s a kind of magic in that costume that brings out the boisterous Santa in him.

A few nights after this family gathering, I was telling a friend of mine about Santa’s wonderful performance. My friend is a professional airline pilot. He said, “Oh, I believe it. I’m normally a very laid-back guy, but when I wear the uniform, I’m all business.”

So what does all of this seasonal reflection have to do with TIRF?

I wish there were some magical, recognizable, convincing uniform for fundraisers that I could put on each year as we stage the Foundation’s year-end appeal – some colorful outfit that would immediately imbue me with the power to convince people to donate to TIRF; some enchanted cloak that would give me the confidence to shout to the world that the Foundation’s mission is vital, that we need help, and that individuals’ gifts are immediately put to good use, to support TIRF’s mission and to sustain and promote its programs.

In past years, we have offered poetry and song to encourage you to give to TIRF. The poem was the classic ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, by Clement Clark Moore, but with a fundraising twist. (Click here to read our poem from 2014.) Our musical serenades have featured renditions of several recognizable holiday songs. (Click here for the 2014 video and click here for the 2015 video.) Although we had some nice responses to those attempts to entice donors to support our work, our goals have gone unmet. Thus, with this year-end plea, I am asking you to please consider giving a holiday gift to TIRF. Won’t you please do so?

Best wishes,