When I was still young enough to have no doubts that Santa was real, on Christmas Eve I was awoken by Mom. I was confused because those were the days when all of us kids would congregate in one of our bedrooms and watch the clock until it turned 6:00 and we could wake Mom and Dad up. We didn't know that 6:00 came after 5:59, just that when it said 6:00 that was the time that we could start opening presents. It was long hours waiting and wondering if the next minute would show 6:00.
Santa was a big part of our lives, bringing gifts to Baby Jesus in the Nativity scene, coming to Grandpa's a little early before he started his trek across the rest of the world, and posing for pictures in the parking lot at the mall, just for Sam.
So when Mom woke me up, I wasn't sure what was happening. She left me a letter to read with the terrible news: There was no Santa. The letter actually said he was real, in spirit, but I knew that didn't mean anything. I was shocked. After I read the letter twice, I ventured out of my room. Mom and Dad showed me what they had been doing every Christmas Eve since I was a baby. They were filling stockings up with candy and other goodies, and bringing out the big toys, the ones from "Santa." I helped in bewilderment until it was time for them to roll out my present. They told me to go back to bed and get some sleep. That was the first Christmas I remember not gathering the kids together to watch the clock. I couldn't bear to watch them wondering if Santa had come, or what he would bring them. Believing.
But when the next morning came, JD and Karen were so excited, seeing that Santa had eaten some of the cookies and milk we had left, and Rudolf had nibbled on the carrot. There was the same note that we would see each morning for the rest of our lives. A smiley face with a Santa hat that looked so much like Mom's signature smiley face. The other kids were so happy with the magic of Santa coming down our chimney and bringing them gifts and filling their stockings before he moved on to the next house. I had been part of it, and I was excited, too.
That was the year Christmas became about giving gifts to each other, and not about getting, and now my favorite part of Christmas is finding the perfect gift that immediately reminds me of the person I got it for, wrapping it, and watching them open it.
Now all the kids know about Santa, but he still brings us gifts that we aren't allowed to see until Mom and Dad are awake. The last few Christmases I spent at home, Mom and Dad were waking me, pulling me out of bed to see what Santa had brought. When I texted my mom to let her know that I couldn't have any candy in my stocking this year, she texted me, "Better tell Santa." I knew she would.
I'm 29 this year, heading into my thirties, but part of me still wonders how he always knows what to bring me that will bring me a little happiness and magic. I guess I still believe a little, and I'm always sure to put out my fire on Christmas Eve before I go to bed. Just in case.