Janna Lopez’s stomach clenched as she answered the phone. Children’s Mercy Hospital was calling and she prayed it wasn’t bad news.
“Your daughter Caroline has been chosen to receive a special Christmas gift,” the hospital social worker told Janna.
Janna dabbed at her eyes, grateful for any good luck. She peppered the women with questions. “What? Who? Why?” But the social worker did not divulge any details.
Janna hung up and gazed lovingly at her six-year-old daughter, parading around in one of her favorite gowns. Caroline adored anything and everything princess. She was off school today because of medical appointments and she was making the most of the experience, dressing up and playing with her Beauty and the Beast princess tea set.
“Caroline is a happy and magnificent princess,” Janna thought.
Caroline had needed her happy and outgoing spirit to get through the challenges of the last year: being diagnosed with a brain tumor in November of 2014, enduring several surgeries, and undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments during the summer. The tumor had caused a slight paralysis of Caroline’s left side and she was often hesitant about dashing outside to run and play with her siblings and friends. Plus, Caroline was frequently fatigued, the after-effects of her treatments. But she never waivered in her passion for princesses, reveling in her princess dolls, wall papers, curtains, and pajamas.
Making a Wish
“What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?” Janna asked her little princess, as she tucked her daughter under her fluffy pink comforter.
“Princesses,” Caroline answered. She adored the royal heroines in Frozen and yearned for Elsa and Anna toys and dolls. “Princesses are magic,” Caroline told her mom as she snuggled deeper into the covers.
A few days later, Janna received a call from a gentleman who introduced himself as the Chief Elf.
“I’ll be working with you and your social worker on Caroline’s gift,” the Chief told Janna. He asked if Caroline would cut out a paper snowflake for Santa.
“One of my elves will drop by your house to pick it up and deliver it to Mr. Claus,” the Chief said.
When Caroline learned Santa himself had invited her to create a special snowflake, she was so excited she could barely hold her scissors straight. Her two big brothers helped her steady the paper and cut out her design. Her two little sisters watched intently. Caroline put the snowflake in a safe place, so it would be ready for the Elf. The next day, when Caroline returned from one of her many doctor’s appointments, her dad told her the elf had come for the snowflake. Her face lit up with a giant grin. Soon her whole family was laughing and smiling with her.
“Mom, will you please call Santa and make sure the snowflake arrived?” she asked.
Janna called and shared the good news: the snowflake had made it safely to the North Pole.
Soon the Chief Elf called Janna with another instruction: measure Caroline from head to toe, including her feet. Though he wouldn’t share any details, Janna smiled as she measured her wiggling daughter, envisioning some sort of interesting costume.
“Be ready at 11:30 on December 24,” the Chief commanded next.
“Ready for what?” Janna wanted to say. But she kept silent, knowing he wouldn’t tell her.
A Mysterious Destination
On December 24, Caroline knew they were going someplace secret and special and she was brimming with anticipation. Janna kept peeking out the living room window. Finally she spied a black stretch limo driving up to their home. She gasped when a beautiful blond woman dressed in a diaphanous white gown emerged from the car, holding a package.
The doorbell rang and Caroline ran to answer it. When she saw the fairy tale princess, her mouth dropped open and her eyes shone. The woman handed her the package and said, “ Hello, Caroline. I am the Snowflake Princess.”
The package held an identical princess dress, along with Elsa shoes and a flowing white cape. Caroline dashed into her bedroom to change clothes. When Caroline sashayed to the living room, the Snowflake Princess crowned her with a sparkling tiara.
“Caroline was the most beautiful princess you can imagine,” Janna said.
The Snowflake Princess led Caroline, her mom and her two older brothers to the limo. (Her little sisters were staying with their grandmother for the day.)
The car glided to a stop ten steps away from a private plane at Kansas City, Missouri’s downtown airport.
Caroline gazed at the plane and asked, “Do we get to fly?”
The Snowflake Princess led them aboard. At first, they circled over the city. Then, the pilot told them to lower their shades; they were almost at their secret destination.
The plane landed and as the pilot opened the airplane door, they heard people applauding and calling out, “Caroline! Caroline! Caroline!”
Santa’s Secret Workshop
The pilot beckoned Caroline to the door and there was Santa Claus himself, holding out his hand to her. He was surrounded by hundreds of his smiling and cheering elves.
Caroline’s face glowed as she took in the amazing scene: she was in Santa’s workshop at the North Pole, a riot of colorfully wrapped presents and dozens of brightly lit Christmas trees. It even smelled liked Christmas, with the tangy scent of pine needles and the inviting aroma of cinnamon. But the surprises were only beginning.
Santa hugged Caroline and led her around his massive workshop. Her eyes widened as she saw Santa’s sleigh and nearby real reindeer. Santa explained that reindeer love animal crackers and let Caroline feed them. She giggled at the warm roughness of their tongues against her hand and she sighed as she petted their soft noses and their coarse fur.
“Come sit in my sleigh,” Santa said and there she was, sitting in the exact spot usually reserved for a bulging sack of toys. She stroked the red and white felt blanket that Santa used to cover the toys and keep them warm.
“Jingle bells, Jingle bells,” a dozen elves sang. Caroline chimed right in. This was her favorite holiday song and she sang it throughout the seasons, spring, summer, fall, and winter.
They visited the elves at their toy-building workshop. Caroline picked up a small hammer and pitched right in, helping the elves build wooden cars and trains
“Next stop, the candy shop,” Santa said and Caroline went running. She loved candy and couldn’t believe the towers of chocolate Santa’s, candy canes, butterscotch toffees, salt-water taffy, and so much more. Encouraged by the elves, she reveled in the candy spree, filling sacks with the luscious treats and sampling along the way.
After saying good-by to Santa and the elves, Caroline and her brothers boarded the plane for the trip back home. Santa hugged Janna and said, “Caroline is very special. I am so thankful I was able to meet her.” Fortunately, the children were too exhilarated to notice her wiping away tears of gratitude as she took her seat on the plane. Before they walked into their home, the Snowflake Princess handed Caroline a slim box. Inside rested a twinkling snowflake necklace, a memento of the magic day. That necklace became a family treasure, a symbol of that amazing experience, when all their worries vanished for a couple of hours, when complete strangers offered their time, love, and energy to give them an astonishing gift, when Caroline was not being poked, treated, or tested and was just another little girl, a princess living out her dream.
Life Long Blessings from Strangers
Late that night, elves visited the house, bringing more presents. Leaning against the wall was a handcrafted flag that featured Caroline’s snowflake. The elves also brought Santa’s special blanket, used to cover the gifts. That night, Janna covered Caroline with that soft and magical blanket.
“That experience gave our whole family a spiritual and emotional boost at a time when it was much needed,” Janna said. “We talk about it a lot. This year, we are going to be elves, giving someone else’s child an amazing Christmas.”
The bags of candy are long gone but Santa’s workshop lives on at the Lopez household. The special flag featuring Caroline’s snowflake, one Santa deemed the “official flag of the North Pole,” lights up the dining room, a symbol of hope, of goodness, of faith, and of magic.
“Caroline’s disease is progressing and there have been lots of bad moments since then,” Janna says. “But so much of that special day is around our house: the flag, the blanket, the necklace, the dress. We look at that those things and a smile comes onto our faces and we think about those perfect moments, our Christmas miracle.”