The story behind the beautiful way a Texas mom told her sons the truth about Santa

WASHINGTON , DC,- DECEMBER 17: Mike Levick has been playing Santa Claus since he was a teenager. He said that he plays a variety of characters/roles and that when he takes off his Santa costume he has to adjust because people wonder why he is excessively friendly. Photographed at his home in Washington, DC, on December 17, 2015. (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Adam Rush’s son was ready. So, the Texas father sat his 9-year-old down and he let him in on the secret of Santa Claus.

A jolly man didn’t traverse the globe in one night leaving gifts, he explained. But not because Santa doesn’t exist. There just isn’t only one Santa, he told the boy, but there are Santas everywhere. And when someone is ready to become a Santa, they’ll receive the message and be activated, like a soldier.

This year, he told his son, Tristan, he was ready to be a Santa.

If the story sounds familiar, it has been shared all over social media this season. It begins decades ago when Adam’s mother – rather than killing the spirit of Christmas by revealing to her children that Santa wasn’t real – told her boys it was their turn to be Santas. She wrote:

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“In our family, we have a special way of transitioning the kids from receiving from Santa, to becoming a Santa. This way, the Santa construct is not a lie that gets discovered, but an unfolding series of good deeds and Christmas spirit. When they are 6 or 7, whenever you see that dawning suspicion that Santa may not be a material being, that means the child is ready.”

She goes on to tell the story of her 7-year-old son; how she took him out for “coffee” and reminded him of ways that year he’d been empathetic or considerate of others’ feelings. She told him that his “heart has grown so much that I think you are ready to become a Santa Claus.”

That Christmas it was his job to identify something a person not their immediate family may need and then surreptitiously leave it for them. Her son picked the “witch lady” down the street, who yelled at the neighborhood kids when they were playing too loudly near her house. He noticed she always got her morning newspaper in her bare feet, so he told his mom he wanted to buy her slippers. They purchased a warm pair, wrapped them with a note, “Merry Christmas from Santa” and her son left them on her driveway. As the story goes, the next morning he watched as the elderly woman came out to get her paper in her new slippers.

The woman who shared that story is Leslie Rush, 57, a high school history teacher, in El Paso, Texas. She wrote it 10 years ago in response to an online forum query about how to handle when kids begin asking whether Santa is real. The little boy in her story is her son, Adam, who is now 32 years old, and this year passed along the gift of becoming Santa to his own son Tristan.

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It originated with her husband’s mother, whose own grandfather turned her into a Santa during the Depression.

Rush can’t say why her family’s story suddenly went viral so many years later, but perhaps therein lies the magic of Christmas: Giving people what they need when they need it most. The idea that there are Santas living all around us feels especially comforting after this year.

“These days everything is so fast, I feel like it’s a way to make personal connections that get lost in this digital age. You have to look into people’s eyes and use your eyes instead of looking at a screen,” Leslie Rush said in an interview. “Making that personal connection, you learn something more about someone . . . It also teaches about doing for others without getting credit. You have to be thoughtful, put yourself outside of yourself.”

Her decade-old post was rediscovered by a woman who shared it on her Facebook page and it was picked up by outlets like Upworthy,the Today Show and The Huffington Post. Even actor Ashton Kutcher shared it. But it wasn’t until last week that a friend saw it going viral and remembered it as Rush’s story. That’s when Rush learned that likely millions of people all over the world were reading her words.

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It’s also quite a coincidence that this would happen on the same year her adult son had planned to pass the Santa secret on to his own child.

For Adam Rush, the attention has made him reflect on what his mother’s gift to him, and later to his younger brother, meant to them. It instilled in them the power of giving. No matter how small the gesture, generosity can have a profound impact. It’s a simple act that transcends politics and religion and race and nationality. It’s about being human.

“I believe it to be in the spirit of St. Nicolas. I don’t believe he had supernatural powers, but the message within his actions, it supersedes religion, it supersedes a lot of the separations we encounter,” he said. “Putting that into action, something as simple as to take the time to do something for someone. They call it the spirit of St. Nick, and it is.”