In honor of the holidays, I am sharing the story of a special Christmas from my childhood ~
Place yourself back in time when you were very young and Christmastime felt magical. The world seemed to transform into an ever-jovial, bright and sparkly place. And it wasn’t just because your mother exchanged every single household item (including the shower curtain and dinner plates!) for its Christmas counterpart, but because the WHOLE world was more fun. Yes, even school was a happier place. As Christmas loomed closer, the anticipation of Santa’s visit guaranteed tummy butterflies and lingering wide-eyed moments in bed before sleep. Christmas Eve night included gazing out the window, guessing which bright star might be the Big Guy himself.
Year after year, my parents – like many loving mothers and fathers – gently told my brother and I that we couldn’t wake up in the middle of the night before Christmas lest we wanted St. Nick to take back all the presents. Being the very abiding daughter that I was, I took that very seriously. On one particular Christmas dawn, my 10th Christmas to be exact, I was the first to wake up bright and early just before 6:00 a.m. I gleefully hopped out of bed and tiptoed down the hall to gain a first glimpse of the goodies under the tree. My plan was to sneak my own peek, wake my bro, and then we’d both barge in our parents’ room. Well, it didn’t quite work that way as I had a surprise that literally stopped me in my slippered tracks. My glee instantly turned to shock as I stood still as a statue and stared at Santa Claus in what I thought was the middle of his delivery. I felt my heart leap; I couldn’t move any closer than the end of the hall. In the living room a few feet before me stood a tall-as the-tree Santa, dressed in his beautiful red suit, his big bulky black boots, his long white beard . . . and he was reaching into the tree. Oddly, he was standing as still as I was but I interpreted that as his shock in being discovered. I stood there for a very long moment not sure what to do; furthermore, in the rather dark room, I looked around and swore I saw three little elf heads peeking out at me from around the corner. It was then I conjured up enough strength to run back to my room as fast as I could, jump back in bed, and cry.
It didn’t take long for my mother to hear me sniffling. She concernedly whispered to my father, “Why is T crying on Christmas?!?” When she came in to ask me what the matter was, I exclaimed between flowing tears that “I woke up too early and Santa was there and he was mad that I saw him and now he’s taking all the presents back!” My mom started to chuckle and told me she heard the opposite – that Santa wasn’t mad at all and, in fact, left an extra big surprise this year. I hesitantly followed her back to the living room. The figure in the red suit was still there but my mother turned on some lights and revealed the big “surprise:” a life-size Santa stand-in (and I do mean life-size!). I gasped and ran to touch him. Oh . . . ummm, those elves I saw – they were my imagination playing tricks on me. I was so relieved and excited again. Christmas was back on!
Mom and I decided to turn off the lights, hide in the foyer, and wait to see what my 4-year old brother’s reaction would be when he woke up and wandered in. I was sure we were in for a show!!! It wasn’t long before we heard his footed-pajamas slipping down the hall. He too stopped at the end of the hall like I did – but that’s where the similarity in our reaction ends. You see, here’s exactly what he did: he rubbed his eyes, muttered, “Oh, that’s nice,” instantly spotted my mom and I and asked, “When can we open the presents?” I let my imagination run wild and here my little bro intuitively knew otherwise!! How did that happen?!
The following year I eventually discovered the truth about Santa and learned how my parents acquired our unique Christmas novelty. My father was the manager of an A & P grocery store at the time. Pepsi-Cola donated the Santa to him. He displayed it a couple weeks before Christmas and drove it home Christmas Eve day (quite a feat, considering how big Santa is and how many family members we had over that night for our annual Eve bash!). Since then, he’s come home with more interesting friends such as a big black scaredy cat and a wart-nose witch. But, none of them brought the memories that our Surprise Santa sprung.
Santa has been part of numerous memories since then. For instance, during Santa’s 2nd year, my father performed “surgery” as Mr. Claus was tired and didn’t want to stand any longer. Given the special signficance behind the statue, my father would not let Santa “retire.” Instead, he enlisted the help of our neighbor but, being the silly guy that my dad was, he decided it would be more fun to bring Santa to our neighbor’s house rather than have his friend come to our home. My father rolled the top down of his convertible, “sat” Santa in the passenger seat, drove to our neighbor’s house, honked the horn and waved to him with his red-suited friend. Mind you, this was the middle of winter AND this particular neighbor lived across the street only five houses away.
Surprise Santa still makes an appearance each Christmas, much now to the delight of my little niece. His beard has been shampooed, his suit’s been dry cleaned and his body has been re-secured with heftier stilts but he still stands strong. Christmas brings out the inner child in us all that is so important to channel once in a while. I continue to get giddy when I decorate, the world still feels cozier this time of year, and I recall the memories when I look at Surprise Santa. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!!! Let the magic of Christmas brighten your days!