By Tammy Syontko Leopaldi

MIDDLETOWN — In the DNA of all moms and dads lies the strong desire to fulfill our children’s Christmas dreams. We wake up early to stand in lines at Toys 'R' Us. We meet strangers in parking lots paying for overpriced items that are sold out in stores. We scope out the endless postings in local Facebook groups hoping to scoop up the hot item of the season.

We pretty much do anything and everything in our power to make sure our kids get all they want on Christmas morning and continue to believe in the magic of Christmas, the magic of Santa.

This lesson of parenthood began for me last Christmas when our daughter wanted a Hatchimal. Remember those? They are abundant on the shelves this year, but last year was a different story. My daughter told me less than a week before Christmas that she told Santa she was getting a Hatchimal, and I had no idea. Desperate to find her one online and in the stores I came up empty. New Jersey 101.5 held a contest giving one away and I wrote an essay telling them our story and how Summer told Santa she was getting one. I won the contest and was interviewed on the radio. I felt like Mom of the Year. We thought nothing could top that Christmas!

But magical things continue to touch my family. Our Christmas story began on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, when we brought Summer to see Santa at Dearborn Market. Every year, my daughter brings two things with her when she goes to see Santa — No. 1) She wears her pearls. No. 2) She chooses one special stuffed animal to accompany her.

Well, this year was the year she brought her stuffed dog named Cedric.

We always love to go see this particular Santa at Dearborn because he’s so real. He looks real, sounds real. He’s just a good Santa. There are no shortages of Santas at Christmas, but this one just has something special about him.

And of course, we got the perfect photo of Summer and Santa and her lil Cedric dog.

Tammy Syontko Leopaldi

Later that night, we realized Cedric was missing. Frantic, we went back to Dearborn. We had the entire store looking for him while a hysterical little girl sobbed for her beloved stuffed animal.

After coming home with no Cedric, I did what any modern-day mother would do. I posted a photo on Facebook and shared it in all the local Facebook groups I could. The photo went viral, with more than 400 shares in the groups.

Tammy Syontko Leopaldi

Over the next few days, I started to see so much goodness in people. One woman offered me her dog’s stuffed animal, saying she would wash him up for Summer. Another told me her husband works at Dearborn and he was going to pull surveillance footage. People left and right shared the post, trying to find a little girl’s lost doll. I was touched at the kindness of so many strangers.

Sadly, Cedric was never returned to usm despite the efforts of so many. Every day, Summer would ask about Cedric and I told her that Santa must have found him that day and I’m sure he would be back Christmas morning. I had to do something. Luckily, I was able to locate a replacement and ordered him, hoping he would be an exact match.

So you all are thinking, 'Great. The dog would be wrapped and under the tree Christmas morning.' And yes that was the plan — but the story doesn’t end there. This is when the magic really began.

After I ordered replacement Cedric, I received a message on Facebook from Mrs. Claus, the wife of the Santa we saw that day at Dearborn. They saw my post about the missing stuffed animal, and Mrs. Claus explained Santa wanted to buy a new one for Summer. I told them I had already ordered a replacement, but they asked if they could give it to her.

This gesture alone made my heart burst. In a season when Santa gets no rest and has an agenda packed to the high heavens, I couldn’t believe they wanted to do this for Summer. I figured we would meet one evening during the week, when maybe Santa would have some down time, but no — it got better. Mrs. Claus informed me that she, their Elf and Santa himself would be at our house Christmas morning to bring Cedric home.

And come home he did. On Christmas morning, Santa and his family rang our doorbell, and moments later, Summer took Cedric out of Santa’s trademark red sack — he was back in her loving arms once again.

Tammy Syontko Leopaldi

All 5-year olds still believe in Santa. As a parent, these are the golden years of Christmas with little ones. Their wide open eyes when they see their gifts from Santa. Their innocence of Christmas wonder. Their overwhelming excitement on Christmas Eve night. But for Summer seeing Santa, the same special Santa she saw at Dearborn that day, at our front door Christmas morning with her beloved Cedric, something tells me she will believe in Santa forever.

I know his magic touched my family’s heart that special morning. In a time when there is so much sadness and negativity in the world we look for goodness in other’s but it’s not always easy to find. I found it this year though in a special person and it was in Santa. Never stop believing in Santa. Never forget what Christmas is all about. Santa is real my friends. He is real.

Tammy Syontko Leopaldi

I gave Santa and his family a gift when they left. I gave them a set of Christmas dishes. My hope is when they take them out every December, they will remember the little girl they made so happy that Christmas morning for this is a story she will tell her children one day and that right there is gift you cannot put a price tag on. That right there is Christmas magic.

Thank you to The Real Jersey Santa for making this a Christmas to remember and for giving Summer something I couldn’t do no matter how hard I tried — the belief that Santa is real. I could write an essay to win a Hatchimal, I could order a replacement doll, I could tell her Christmas stories, but you, and only you could really, truly make her believe. And believe she does.

Please feel free to share this post and bring other’s belief in Santa back again.

Tammy Syontko Leopaldi

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