Serious Business in December

A Christmas Memory

Christmas was a serious business in our household when I was growing up. For one thing, we lived in an old home with, from my perspective, a huge fireplace and chimney with plenty of room for Santa and his pack of toys. My brother Pat and I had spent time peeking up the chimney to be sure the flue was wide enough and, yup, it was clear sailing for Santa.

I also had a secret weapon when it came to Christmas wishes. I would get a letter from Rudolph every week, starting after Thanksgiving and ending just before Christmas. I was six years old when I heard Gene Autry sing about him on the radio, and I thought he was the coolest reindeer ever. The best part? I could write Rudolph back and let him know exactly what I wanted—and my little brother could, too. We finally had an inside track to Santa’s ear.

Christmas Eve was a flurry of activity. That afternoon we decorated the tree with big

colored lights that had a habit of blowing fuses, and tinsel, which we had to place carefully on the tree. After all, Mom said we had to save it for next year, too. Earlier in the day, my brother and I helped her with the Christmas cookies. She had a press we would fill with dough and then squirt it onto cookie sheets. The press could make all kinds of shapes, depending on the decorative stencil disk. Pat and I would squabble about which discs we wanted to use. But all it took was one disapproving look from our mother to jolt us back into “good kid” mode. We had to behave or . . . horror of horrors, Santa wouldn’t come!  

The night before Christmas found us sitting on the rug in front of the fire listening to Christmas stories on the radio. Aside from Rudolph stories, we listened to a brand new one—Amahl and the Night Visitors. I really liked that one and half expected a knock on the door.

“Would you let them in?” Pat asked with widened eyes.

“You bet I would,” I said. “They’re the Wise Men!”

“But, what about those camels?” He was aghast. “We don’t have a barn or anything.”

Our next-door neighbor was a dairy farmer, and I thought the camels would be just fine with the cows. “They can stay with Mr. Pratt’s cows,” I said.  “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. After all,” I whispered bending close to him. “It’s a magic time of year and anything can happen!” His eyes grew bigger, and my stomach would flutter at this exciting thought. There was magic afoot on Christmas Eve, I just knew it.

We were allowed to stay up as late as we wanted that night and eventually the warmth of the fire would start to make us sleepy. “Let’s put out Santa’s milk and cookies,” Dad said. “Then, it’s time for bed.”  We stumbled into the room we shared and crawled into our respective beds. After goodnight kisses and hugs, Mom and Dad gently closed the door. Pat whispered, “Are you awake?”

“Yes,” I whispered back. “I’m too excited to sleep!” We went over our list of what we wanted, visualizing the pretty packages wrapped and ready under the tree. “I hope you get everything you want,” Pat said generously.

“I hope you do too,” I whispered back.

Before we knew it, it was morning! We knew we were allowed to creep into the living room and retrieve our stockings. We could open them up on our beds quietly—as quietly as possible.

We snuck into the living room. Oh My! The tree had heaps of presents under it, and our stocking were stuffed with mysterious lumps and bumps. “Look!” Pat exclaimed. “Santa’s footprints!” There they were—ashy footprints coming out of the fireplace and headed toward the tree. There was a swoop of ashes where he dragged the toy bag across the floor.  It was all we could do to contain our excitement, but we knew we needed to be quiet. So, we stifled our laughter and snuck back to our room stockings in hand. Pat dumped his out on his bed, rifling through the treasure for possible Christmas candy. I was more circumspect, savoring each item as I carefully pulled them out. After what seemed like hours, Mom tapped at the door.

“Come on out, it’s time!” she sang. We didn’t need any encouragement. Leaving our stockings on the bed we bolted for the living room. Dad was in his chair with a cup of coffee. “Looks like Santa came after all,” he chuckled.

The next few hours were certainly magic as we unwrapped our gifts and “ooohed” and “aaahed” at the bounty. “ How did Santa know just what we wanted?” Pat asked. I was pretty smug in my answer— “Why, Rudolph of course!”

The magic of that particular Christmas has stayed with me all my life. Perhaps it was because of the lengths my parents went to in preserving that wondrous time. Perhaps it was because Pat and I really believed without question. Whatever it was, it was magic, something this old world could use a good dose of nowadays. So . . . without further ado: Here’s to wishing everyone a wonderful holiday, filled to the brim with the extraordinary power of magic.

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