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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