I must have been about six. I felt awkward and lanky for my age although photographs do not bear that out. My hair was short, cut into the ‘cute’ pixie haircut that I always detested. I could not wait to grow up and finally have long hair, but I was the youngest of four and growing up was a dreadfully long way off.
Watching my father at Christmas was like observing another child. He was filled with excitement and the anticipation of opening gifts was almost more than he could bear. While we were young, we opened Christmas presents on Christmas Day after Santa had delivered the presents.
On Christmas Eve, we all went to church for Christmas services. We piled into the station wagon, along with our grandparents and drove the short distance to church. It was always a beautiful and festive service full of Christmas hymns and the joyful Christmas story, not at all like the sometimes stodgy Sunday sermons.
After church we were all rushed off to bed with the promise that our grandmother would join us to sleep ‘crossways’ in the bed – a Christmas Eve tradition we had always enjoyed. Reflecting on this as a grandmother now, I can only imagine how uncomfortable she was.
Children and sleep are a complex formula – especially at Christmas. The buildup and anticipation often got the better of many children and we were no exception. On this particular evening, we were upstairs, all dressed in our flannel pajamas bouncing around like ping pong balls. It was difficult to sleep listening to the movement and conversation downstairs.
”You kids better settle down or Santa won’t stop here.” It was the warning we all feared – or perhaps I was the only one because my siblings simply snickered at the warning.
We all finally settled into the double bed – all four of us, but there was no sleep. Eyes would open and shut and giggles would spill out along with the occasional “Scoot over” or “You’re hogging the bed”.
For a moment the room grew quiet when I heard my oldest sister urge my brother: “Go ask Dad if Santa has been here yet” to which he shook his head no. “He will never believe me.” Then my sister suggested I go to the top of the stairs and ask our father the same question to which she added “Because you still believe in Santa.”
Now what did she mean by that? Of course I believed in Santa. I listened, thinking it had grown terribly quiet downstairs, yet my grandmother had not come up to sleep with us yet. After much cajoling, I finally slipped out of the bed, opened the bedroom door and walked across the hall to the top of the stairs.
“Daddy, is Santa here yet?”
I heard my father’s deep bass voice “No, and you better get back in that bed or he won’t come at all!” It was enough to convince me to get my rear back in bed and get to sleep.
Early the next morning we were awakened by a loud “Ho, ho, ho” that reverberated with that rich bass sound just like my dad’s voice. We opened our eyes to find our grandmother lying in the midst of these four kids with elbows and knees sprawled everywhere. The sun was just rising as we ran downstairs with bare feet on the cold wood floor.
That was the year Santa brought me my pink and white table with the removable top and my Chatty Cathy doll. He left a note telling us how much he enjoyed the milk and cookies we left for him. Santa’s handwriting looked a lot like my father’s.
I felt like that was the year I really ‘saw’ Santa for the first time. He was indeed a jolly old elf and no matter what others may say, he is as real to me today as he was back then.
All you have to do is believe.
Merry Christmas Eve!