Thanksgiving has come and gone, and we’re in the thick of the Christmas/Holiday Season. From Thanksgiving through the entire month of December is unquestionably my favorite time of year. Without Christmas and all the trappings that go with it, though, I don’t know how I’d get through the long, dark nights of December.
I’m a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas. I live in a part of the world where there’s about a 50/50 chance there will be snow on the ground on Christmas Day. I can remember a few Christmas Day snowstorms over the years, and my parents used to tell me about the monster Christmas Eve blizzard that hit the area when I was all of three. It was so bad that about half the dozen or so Catholic Churches in town canceled Midnight Mass. You might as well have canceled Christmas itself, as the storm in the classic TV special threatened to do until Rudolph came to the rescue. I’d be happy if it was snowing when I roll out of bed every Christmas morning for the rest of my days.
Every year, I take vacation the week after Thanksgiving just so I can decorate the inside of the house – the outdoor lights go up around Halloween to get a jump on the winter weather. By doing it alone I can work at my own pace, decorating the way I want, and I can listen to cheesy Christmas music to my heart’s content. I can even sing along, at least until the cat’s ears start to bleed. I’m no minimalist. I go all out with colored lights, hanging ornaments, pine boughs, garland, and my favorite, my Christmas village. My Mom spent years building it up, hand painting all the buildings and figurines, painstakingly recreating a downtown like the one she remembered from her own childhood. I wish I could have seen downtown as she and Dad described it, but by the time I came along, the city had long since given up the elaborate downtown decorations, and retail was Mall-ward bound.
My decorating comes to a head on the weekend when my wife and I head out to one of the local Christmas tree farms, and spend hours looking for just the right tree. This year it’s a six-foot balsam fir, nice and full with no bare spots. It went up Saturday afternoon and took until Sunday afternoon to fully decorate. I have ornaments that belonged to my great grandparents, and quite a collection of decorations that my son made over the years for school art projects.
I still believe in Santa Claus, or the Christmas Spirit, or call it whatever you like. It’s the message of love, hope, and rebirth, the magical “Gift of the Magi” moments that feel like they cluster around the season. A serendipitous convergence of events the Christmas my son was six cemented my belief in Santa Claus/Christmas Spirit.
It was still Christmas Eve, but not by much. We were heading home after spending the evening the way we always spent Christmas Eve: The early Children’s Mass with its recreation of the Nativity by the little ones in the parish, a few hours at my ex-husband’s parents where we partook of their modest spread of snack foods and enjoyed the company of his family, then the later evening at my parents where we had a heartier buffet of more traditional French-Canadian fare, like tortierre (aka “meat pie”), creton (a spiced ground pork pate), and buche de Noel made by my Mom.
My ex and I were very tired, and we still faced the prospect of at least two hours playing Santa and laying out the gifts under the tree. Our son was right on screech, and it seemed like it would be hours before he crashed and burned and we could wrap up the night. It was snowing; not hard, more like a fine snow mist, just enough to grease up the roads and put a dusting on the as yet bare ground. We lived in an old farmhouse on the outskirts of town, and our route home took us passed a lake. On the far side of the lake were a series of low ridges, one of which was topped by a tall radio tower with its blinking red warning light clearly visible through the fine veil of snow.
That light was something that normally didn’t even register on my consciousness, but that night it was the source for a sudden flash of inspiration all mothers are prone to when faced with a challenging child. “Look!” I cried excitedly. “See that blinking red light on the other side of the lake? That’s Santa! That’s Rudolph’s red nose leading the way! We don’t have much time. You have to go straight to bed or Santa’s going to fly right passed our house!”
My ex-husband, bless his heart, immediately understood what was going on, and he played along. When we got home, that boy ran into the house and changed into his pjs and brushed his teeth in under fifteen minutes. At first I worried he might be too wound up to sleep, but when I tucked him in, I could see he wasn’t going to last ten minutes. I was finally able to have a glass of wine while we moved the loot from its hiding place in the shed to the tree.
We were dragged from bed just as the sun rose (though it was hiding behind a layer of gray clouds). We spent an hour opening gifts, and when it was over I got up to stretch and refresh my cup of coffee. I decided to step out on the back deck to get a breath of fresh air. Our large yard had several apple trees scattered about. I hardly ever noticed them, but this time my eyes were drawn to the one closest to the house when I noticed something. Still in my robe and scuffies, I went to the edge of the deck to get a closer look, and sure enough…
I ran into the house calling for my son. “Come quick! Mommy’s got something to show you!” I kicked off my scuffies and slipped my bare feet into my Bean boots.
“What is it, Mommy!” he said with great excitement. “What is it.”
My ex surely thought I’d lost my mind. I picked my son up and carried him down to the apple tree. There underneath its now bare branches was a cluster of hoofprints in the new snow where the deer had come out of the woods during the night to feed on the windfall apples around the tree. “Look!” I said, “see those deer hoofprints? That’s where the reindeer waited for Santa while he put your presents under the tree! I told we saw Rudolph last night.”
His eyes were as big as saucers at the stark proof of Santa’s visit. I’m sure that little episode bought us an extra two years of him believing in the magical, jolly elf, St. Nick.
So yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. I know it for a fact.
PS: I want to send along my "get-well" wishes to my dear and cherished friend, Heather.