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A few minutes before the vans from Discovery Kingdom daycare arrived, Charleston police were busy fussing with holiday lights and awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus in the Beni Kedem parking lot.

Gargantuan inflatable holiday characters loomed over parked cars, making things feel a little surreal, if I’m honest.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the email from the Charleston Police Department about the second annual Wonderland Toy Drive seemed to suggest it was OK for me to be there.

Looking very out of place, I loitered around the parking lot, watched the television news folks set up their cameras and banter back and forth as McGruff the Crime Dog paced and probably sweated in that trench coat.

Finally, the children arrived — about 18 of the cutest, most earnest 4-year-olds I’d seen in a while. They poured out of two vans, decked out in holiday red and green and wearing pointy elf-hats.

Wide-eyed and so clean, the whole bunch looked like they were fresh out of a box. It was the cutest group of preschoolers I believe I have ever seen.

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And they were here to work. The lot of them had been press-ganged into helping Santa with the toy drive and were compelled to sing.

Their teachers led them through four songs and a poem, which is about as much as you get from your average guest appearing on Mountain Stage.

They were adorable and completely wrapped up in the wonder of the season.

It reminded me of something my father once told me. When I was a teenager and losing interest in the trappings of the holidays (but still interested in the stuff), I asked him once if Christmas lost its magic as you got older.

Dad, who was not always the most sentimental of guys and once put actual switches in my stocking as a joke, smiled and said, “Yeah, it does, but then you get it back when you look at the faces of little kids, especially your own.”

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