Spirit of the Season

In keeping with the spirit of the season, I thought I would share a special memory.  This memoir won an Honorable Mention last year from Women’s Memoirs.  I know many of you have read the memoir, but I thought I would share it again this Christmas. 

Sometimes my husband and I feel a bit melancholy during the holiday season remembering our loved ones no longer with us.  Memories such as the one I am sharing below can bring us peace as we try to recapture that feeling of wonder from our childhood.   So this is my gift to all of you as I wish you Peace for this holiday season.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Night I Saw Santa


Do you believe in Santa?  I do. Really I do.  From an early age I remember this incredible loving, gentle man.  I was quite drawn to him, never fearful.  That’s me on the left quite comfortable on Santa’s lap.  I continue to believe in Santa even today.  I know it sounds quite ridiculous to many people, but none-the-less I do.  And as I remember Christmas as a child, I remember going to see Santa.  That all important trip.  I had to let him know what I wanted.  Without that trip, he just wouldn’t know for sure.  Forget the letters; I wanted the personal touch for Christmas.

Christmas always had a personal touch in our family.  We lived in Philadelphia, PA and so did all of our extended family.  When we got together, it meant we all got together including close friends and neighbors into one tiny row house.  Once we moved to Mishawaka, IN when I was five the tradition did not end.  My parents would load us (we were a family of 6) into the  station wagon and begin the 14 hour drive from Indiana to Pennsylvania. Most trips were through ice and snow.  My siblings and I (3 girls and 1 boy) ranged in age from two to six when these long trips started.  No child safety seats, just strategic seating plans to keep the peace.  Being the smallest and the middle girl, I was usually relegated to the “way-back” with the suitcases and boxes.  To this day I still cannot believe my parents made this trip six years in a row.

But it was worth every minute in that car.  Upon arrival, we ran up the stairs to my aunt and uncle’s house, and were greeted with such love.  The hugs, squeezes and kisses went on for at least a half hour.  And then there were the sights and smells.  The house decorated with lights, wreaths and, of course, the bare Christmas tree.  It stood on top of a table waiting for Santa to decorate it.  And the food.  My aunt had been baking thousands of Italian cookies, or so it seemed to me.  My uncle had made his famous Tomato Pie and homemade hard rolls.  But more important than the sights, smells, and food, there was the family.  Seeing everyone, listening to all the conversations and joining into as many as you could at once.  Playing with cousins and friends.  It was non-stop excitement right up tol the big night–Christmas Eve.

It started with a big feast.  Half the family was Italian so holiday meals were part American tradition and part Italian.  There was always soup, antipasto and the macaroni and gravy (or as you call it, pasta and sauce).  Then the turkey or ham or roast beef (sometimes all three because you had to have enough food to feed an army) arrived with all the side dishes.  Salad was served last and dessert came at least an hour later.  We would cram as many as could fit around the dining room table.  If there wasn’t enough room some of the kids were dispatched to the kitchen table or as it became known as the kid’s table if you were lucky enough to be moved there.  To some it may have appeared the noise was deafening, but to us it was a joyous sound-the music of love.

So who could even remotely be tired when it was time to get ready for bed and await the arrival of Santa.  Definitely not me.  I was usually the last to fall asleep.  Knowing Santa would once again visit and give me wonderful toys just for trying to be the best little girl I could all year.  After all, he did not demand perfection.  He understood I was a child and would make mistakes and definitely be sorry for them.  He was a standard to be held to if you could reach that high.  So reluctantly I would start up that steep staircase to get ready for bed and begin the yearly ritual of looking for Santa.  I say reluctantly because if I had my way I would be seated there to greet him in person.

I’m not sure when this all began.  I think I really became obsessed with seeing Santa after I had my tonsils out.  I was seven and spent Christmas in the hospital that year.  Definitely not a fun Christmas.  So a year later I began my ritual in earnest.  I always tried to stay up as long as I could hold out to catch a glimpse.  Since there wasn’t a fireplace in my aunt’s little row house, I was told that Santa had to use the front door.  So I always asked to sleep in the front bedroom with my aunt and uncle.  That way I could plant myself at the window to watch.  After all the view was spectacular.  All the houses were ablaze with lights and decorations beckoning Santa.

And so there I was that fateful night.  I was just glancing around.  It was late and the adults were still downstairs.  I just could not tear myself away from the window.  I could sense something was different.  And then there it was.  But it couldn’t be.  No it was.  It was Santa and Mrs. Claus.  Going from house to house.  I was dumb-struck at first.  I think I wasn’t even breathing. I got my wits about me and raced to find any one of my siblings who might still be up.  I found my older sister still awake and in a whispering scream, I said, “It’s Santa and his wife.  Really I just saw them. Hurry”.  She must of believed me because she didn’t even hesitate.  And as we ran to the window there they were.

I can’t even begin to relay the joy I felt at that moment.  We were jumping and talking and forgot the adults.  Uh oh.  They heard us.  Here they come.  “But Dad we really did see Santa and Mrs. Claus,” we said in unison.

“OK, but if you want him to stop here you better get to sleep and fast.”  Of course my dad always had the right answer.  And so we threw ourselves into bed and fell asleep.

On Christmas morning, to say I was an early riser was an understatement.  I was up before dawn driving myself and everyone else crazy with anticipation.  I would steal out of the bedroom to the bathroom as an excuse.  Then very quietly sneak around to see who was still asleep.  This particular morning I was in luck and no one else was up.  So I gingerly made my way down the stairs avoiding all the creaks until I was about halfway down making sure I could get back up before anyone heard or saw me.

I could just see the tree.  The tree that was bare but a few hours ago when I went to sleep was now incredibly, beautifully decorated.  As I was to learn later, Santa did not decorate everyone’s tree, but we were one of the few lucky, special families for which he did.  The toys were in four neat piles around the tree.  Santa delivered our toys unwrapped.  I think you had to make a special request to keep them unwrapped.  I preferred it this way.  I wanted to see them and play with them right away.  No messy unwrapping for me. I quickly made my way back to bed before I was discovered.

When we were finally allowed downstairs, we ran as fast as we could coming to a stop like we were sliding into second base.  Here were all the wonderful toys I asked for.  And there was my dad with his movie camera with its blinding lights capturing the moment.

No matter how many people I told that I saw Santa and Mrs. Claus, no one really believed me.  They placated me with “Sure honey.” and “That’s nice.”  But my sister and I knew it was true. I think Santa and Mrs. Claus knew it too.

As I grew older I still searched and believed in Santa.  We stopped making our annual Christmas trip when we moved to New York State.  We were older and as I surmised Santa stopped coming once you hit your teens.  He concentrated on the children and left the teens and grown ups to the giving of gifts.

Once I was grown and began teaching, I always made sure my students knew it.  I collected children’s books about Christmas and Santas from all over the world to share with them.  I wanted them to know his pure love just like I knew it.  I believe he is the true definition of what love really is.  The love of family and friends coming great distances to be together, to share a meal, to give gifts even if the gift is just themselves.

I am not sure if my sister remembers the events of that fantastic night or if it left an indelible mark on her as it did me.  All I know is that for me, there is and always will be a Santa Claus.


Note:  My sister told me later that she remembers this night vividly.  I will be linking in to Blooming Friday today with Katarina.  Her theme is Christmas.

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All content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.



  1. thevioletfern says:

    Merry Christmas Donna. What wonderful memories. One of my long time buddies told me her Dad (I mean, Santa) would always make footprints with the ashes from the fireplace. So fun, so magical. I remember I stopped believing and my parents duped me with a half eaten cookie and a note from an elf. I continued to believe. My husband introduced me to tomato pie – yum! Happy New Year.

    • Donna says:

      Carol, so glad you stopped in for another read…those cherished old memories bring such Christmas magic!! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!

  2. Donna says:

    Donna, the story is wonderful and so well told with imagery, no wonder it received an award. Scrapbooking memories is a nice thing to do and interesting for others to read. I can almost put myself in your story with similar memories and experiences. That makes for a really good writer to touch people in that way.

    • Donna says:

      Oh Donna you are too kind…your lovely words brought tears to my eyes. I am so glad the memories touched memories for you too…I wish you such a lovely holiday season and looking forward to a New Year with you my friend!!

    • Donna says:

      Thx Holley. Can you believe that was only about 20 years ago??? Ha ha…more like 40…So glad you enjoyed the nostalgic trip…and yes I do still believe as does my sister….

  3. Elephant's Eye says:

    Heard this morning of a little girl who wants a doll for Christmas. Mama told her Santa is bankrupt. Little girl – Santa … can’t you borrow a little money from your mother, just enough to buy me a doll?

    Happy Christmas and thanks for the memories!

  4. Big Sister says:

    Donna-Glad you reposted-I enjoyed it last year as I am again today, I remember seeing Mr & Mrs Claus that night. I still believe in Santa Claus and always will

    Love-Merry Christmas

    • Donna says:

      Hey big sis…so glad you could read this again and it is a special memory we will always have that we can laugh about even when we are 2 old ladies!!! Love you and missing you this Christmas!!! Have a great Christmas and an outstanding New Year!!!

  5. Debbie/GardenofPossibilities says:

    Donna, Merry Christmas! Thanks for sharing your Christmas memories and those wonderful photos. I seem to remember a strikingly similar photo of my mom & her family sitting on a couch.I think the filmcolors of that time seem to give a wonderful hue to all those old photos and somehow make them seem more alive now than they were then.

    • Donna says:

      The first photo was 1958 as was the last photo. The family portrait was a couple of years later…I love the vintage look…so glad you enjoyed the memories Debbie…Merry Christmas!!

    • Donna says:

      Beth so glad you enjoyed it and it brought back memories for you too!!! Merry Christmas!! BTW I am announcing the idea of the meme on Monday with a shout out to you!!

    • Donna says:

      Katarina thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoyed it…sorry no flowers though but we finally have a bit of snow. Merry Christmas!!

    • Donna says:

      So glad you had a chance to read it and thank you for those kind words. Merry Christmas to you and yours and may this New Year be wonderful!!!

  6. debsgarden says:

    Merry Christmas, Donna! Your story brought back some memories of my own. For years we visited my Aunt Ozelle at Christmas, and she had a child’s table in the kitchen, which was always crowded and rowdy. We all longed to grow up so we could join the adult table, which was even rowdier than our own!

    • Donna says:

      Deb how great is that to have similar memories…I always wanted to be at the grown up table but not I would do anything to visit the kids table again with my sibs and cousins!! Merry Christmas to you and your family!!

    • Donna says:

      Thx Jim…those memories are what makes the season that much more joyful as I age gracefully…the most special part was sharing it with my big sis who still remembers and believes!!

  7. Jean says:

    Donna, This brought back memories of the year I heard the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof over my bedroom. I’m grateful to my older sister for not being snotty about it; she could easily have pointed out that since we lived on the first floor of a three-story tenement house, what I probably heard were the people upstairs walking around — but she didn’t. She and I would always try to push the envelope to see how early we could get away with getting up and rushing into the living room to see what Santa had left; but since my parents put the finishing touches on all this *after* midnight mass, they had often barely gotten to sleep and would insist that we go back to bed and wait until it got light. One year, we managed to tip-toe into the living room so silently that my parents didn’t wake up — at least until we were betrayed by our new baby dolls that wailed when we picked them up (followed shortly by the sound of my mother’s voice saying sternly, “Girls, go back to bed!”)

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