In the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, I began to reflect on the Christmases of my childhood. Christmas, in my family, was magical, joyful, a special time for friends and family to spend together. I remember bundling up in the backseat of the car with my brother as we drove to or from a relative's home, and the Christmas morning round-robin with the neighbors where the adults had drinks and hors d' oeuvres and us kids showed off our brand new toys. I remember singing in the children's choir at our church, and later, the peace of Midnight Mass. I remember my mom and her sisters singing Polish carols, tree-cutting expeditions, hanging ornaments, preparing for my parents' annual Christmas bash, lighting the Advent wreath, making cookies, shopping for family gifts in the church basement, and even one service day spent wrapping Christmas presents at the local pregnant teens home. But most of all, I remember Santa.
My mom wholeheartedly believed in the magic of Santa Claus, and together, my parents created a world for us in which Santa continues to be real. Even long after Bro & I stopped setting out cookies, milk, carrots, and a shot glass of sugar (for Rudolph!), the magic and surprise and joy of sharing that perfect gift endured.
But the memories that have me smiling the most of late are what I wanted to share in this post. One is an encounter with Santa, and the other was a Christmas morning surprise.
When I was quite small, my dad's company had an annual Christmas party that included the employees' families, and the kids had the opportunity to visit with Santa. As we approached with Dad, Santa called out our names! He knew our dog's name, and about our camping vacations. He knew what we were wishing for before we told him, and the ways in which we'd been naughty of late. Bro & I were stunned. We were talking to the real Santa! From the North Pole! Only recently, we learned who was really in that Santa suit - an old friend* of the family, and we'd never, ever guessed.
Another year, when we were both questioning a lot, we set out the Santa & reindeer treats, and with them, a note to Santa: "Are you real?" When we got up in the morning, Santa had answered our note to tell us that of course he was real. To this day, I swear it was neither of my parents' handwriting - they did a fantastic job of disguising it. He also "accidentally" left a bit of white fluff from his coat stuck to the branches of our Christmas tree, and little bitty sooty footprints** on the hearth. The fireplace doors were left wide open and the tree was lit as well. We were in awe. Clearly, Santa *had* been in our house. It was another couple of years before we even started to question again.
All of these memories are the things I hold close to my heart in this season. So here's wishing you amazing memories of the magic, joy, peace, and love of the season.
* As I was composing this post over the last few days, I learned that this old family friend passed away on Friday. That makes three men lost this year, who were all important to these Christmas memories in some way. Bruce, Melvin, and Al, you are missed.
** No matter how many times I ask, my dad STILL won't tell me how he made those footprints!