Reclaiming the Gift of Wonder

My visit from Santa ~ 1952

Looking down from the second-story window of our spare bedroom, the family collection of shovels, sleds, salt bags, and skates filled the front porch: limned at night by the faint glow of the corner streetlight. Protected from wind and blowing snow by heavy plastic sheeting, even the metal-framed glider remained on the porch, ready to accept a full complement of boots, mittens, and scarves.

Still too young to have begun sneaking books and flashlights into my closet, I was old enough to have experienced Santa in person, and each Christmas Eve, shivering with expectation and excitement, I’d watch from that second story window for the arrival of the Great Gift-Giver.

After one of his first visits to our house, only clever parenting saved me from a slide into disbelief. Peering into the recesses of the porch from my second-story perch, I noticed something unusual tucked into a corner of the glider. The light may have been dim, but a yellow body and orange bill clearly suggested a duck: although what a duck might be doing on our front porch, I couldn’t say.

Before I could solve the riddle, the sound of bells, a heavy knock at the door, and a parental call from below meant Santa had arrived for his yearly visit. Flying down the stairs, I found St. Nick waiting for me, holding a yellow rubber duck with an orange bill. It was, in fact, the porch duck: a floating soap holder for the bath.

After Santa left, I had questions: particularly, why had he brought me a present I’d already spotted on our porch? I didn’t yet know the word ‘chicanery,’ but I suspected it was afoot.

My father had the answer. With so many children to visit, Santa needed help; his elves made sure each child’s Christmas Eve gift was in place so Santa’s bag wasn’t so heavy. Other elves stayed at the North Pole, filling bags with toys for Santa’s big around-the-world nighttime journey.  After finding more gifts from Santa under the tree on Christmas morning, I decided the explanation made sense, and never again questioned Santa’s Christmas Eve visits.

The ritual never varied. At the sound of sleigh bells and heavy boots, my father would look up from his newspaper and say, “Better see who’s at the door,” Always, the door opened to hearty laughter; shiny black boots; a beard as white as a falling snow, and a present from the hand of Santa himself.

Eventually, I understood that my parents almost certainly knew Santa’s true identity, but they swore ignorance, and Santa kept arriving. By the time I reached my senior year in high school, the rubber duck soap dish had gone by the wayside and Santa was bringing Chanel N°5.

 Then, with college looming on the horizon, my parents finally confessed. ‘Santa’ had been one of my father’s co-workers, and one of his best friends. While yearly visits to children of colleagues had been great fun, the already retired engineer decided it was time to retire his role as Santa, and those of us who’d enjoyed his visits finally learned the truth.

Since my parents regularly played bridge with ‘Mr. and Mrs. Claus,’  I saw them often, and we had more than a few laughs about those yearly visits.  During my first return from college for the Christmas holiday, we shared a short visit on Christmas Eve, talking again about our long-standing tradition.

Then, we heard sleigh bells. And heavy stomping. And a pounding on the door. “What in the world?” said my mother. “What the heck’s that?” said the former Santa. My father said, “You might want to answer the door.”

Mystified, I went to the front door and opened it to find Santa himself standing on the front stoop. A little chubbier, more bearded, and a good bit heartier in his laugh than my childhood Santa, he said not a word. Bowing, he handed me a package before turning and disappearing into the night.

Back in the living room, I confronted the adults, who swore ignorance. Finally, my mother had the good sense to say, “Well, open the package.” 

Limned by candlelight, the silver and pearl necklace shimmered.

I still have the gift, although I never learned the identity of the giver. Whenever I wear it, I always think of Virginia O’Hanlon and her own concerns about Santa’s existence. Young Virginia sent her question to the New York Sun in 1897, and Francis Pharcellus Church, asked to respond to her letter, produced what has become  history’s most reprinted editorial.

Virginia O’Hanlon
DEAR EDITOR:
I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, “If you see it in THE SUN  it’s so.”
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET
Francis Pharcellus Church
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.
Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus.
The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God!  he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Although not writing in response to a particular child, and despite not being specifically concerned with Santa Claus, the poet T.S. Eliot clearly shared journalist Church’s convictions about the importance of wonder. In this excerpt from “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees,” Eliot writes:

There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (pubs open ’til midnight),
And the childish – which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.
The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
So that the glittering rapture, the amazement

Of the first-remembered Christmas Tree
May not be forgotten in later experience —
In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium,
The awareness of death, the consciousness of failure,
Or in the piety of the convert —
Which may be tainted with a self-conceit
Displeasing to God and disrespectful to children.

Both Church and Eliot clearly respected children, and both understood that the spirit of season is a spirit of wonder. In the eyes of a child like Virginia Hanlon — or any other child, of any age — the line between wonder and miracle can be exceedingly thin.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

114 thoughts on “Reclaiming the Gift of Wonder

  1. Sweet memories! And a good story, but oh those hair curlers! I had similar ones, from which later evolved pink foam cores. Warmest wishes to you and your delightful bloggers.

    1. My mother sometimes fantasized that she could turn me into Shirley Temple: hence, the curlers produced long finger curls. If you’re ever in West Columbia and their museum (on Hwy 35) is open, it would be worth going in to see the very, very early electric hair curling gizmo they have on display. It looks vaguely terrifying, to be honest. Next to it, they have a sign with a quotation from Dame Edith Sitwell: “Why not be oneself? That is the whole secret of a successful appearance. If one is a greyhound, why try to look like a Pekinese?”

  2. How lucky to have Santa come to your house. It is incredible how we still keep the story going. My nephew figured out Santa was not real on the way to Christmas dinner that all the other cousins would be attending. He was very angry that he had been lied to (his words) for years. Even worse, we had to keep him from telling the rest of the cousins. The things that parents do!

    1. Keeping the older ones — or the mean classmates — from spilling the beans can be a challenge. Some kids do get angry when they’re told Santa isn’t real, but some take another tack. Some years ago I knew a young girl whose brothers informed her at Christmas dinner that all the gifts had come from their parents, and that there was no Santa. She kept right on eating and said, “You can believe that if you want, but I know the truth!”

  3. Sweet story! I had to enlarge the picture to see what the heck was in your hair. By the time I came around, we had foam hair curlers, and I hated them. Never did like fussing with my hair, and I still don’t.

    1. Yep. First came rubber, then came foam — then came those ghastly things with bristles sticking out of them. I still have a bag of those that belonged to my mother; she thought they were wonderful. But do you remember the juice cans that were the big thing for a while? I never used those because my hair was too short, but they did produce some nice waves for some of my friends.

    1. I’m sure my dad and his fellow engineers were behind it in the beginning. I suspect Santa visited the kids of others in their department as well, but I never heard anything about it. My mother’s role in the shenanigans was helping me make elaborate Santa-shaped cookies with raisin eyes and coconut beards to put out for Santa on Christmas eve. I still have the Aunt Chick’s cookie cutters that we used.

  4. You have to know I love this sweet memory of yours since I experienced a similar one. That photo of you could have been taken in our 1950’s era house right down to the Venetian blinds on the window! How wonderful that you still possess that last treasured gift from Santa.

    1. We’ve often compared notes on those years, haven’t we? And here’s something that will amuse you, although you’ll understand it as well. I not only have the necklace, I still have the tinsel from the tree in the photo. In those days, tinsel was more substantial than what they produce today, and it was placed and removed with care. We put it on one strand at a time, took it off the same way, and wrapped it around a card for saving until the next year. The habit never died, and now I decorate my own tree in the same way. Who knew that tinsel could last for more than seventy years?

      1. We certainly have! And oh, yes that tinsel – we did the same thing, placed it on the tree one at a time, took it off the same way and wrapped it on cardboard to be used the subsequent year. Ah, the memories…and you still enjoy them I bet every time you decorate your tree.

  5. Ah, two paragraphs more of Church and the addition of one of your favorites, T.S. Eliot.

    In looking back to 2017, what caught my attention was the long three-party discussion of zucchini and recipes for using it. Not what you’d expect from a Christmas post, but why not?

    1. I didn’t come across that Eliot poem until this fall. Written in 1954, it wasn’t included in the standard Complete Poems and Plays, which covers 1909 to 1950. In fact, it was written for holiday cards of the Ariel Series: brainchild of Richard de la Mare, a production director at London’s Faber & Gwyer in 1927. The cards were sent to clients and sold to customers for one shilling each.

      The Ariel poems each addressed the Christmas holiday or a seasonal theme. G. K. Chesterton, Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence, Siegfried Sassoon, Vita Sackville-West, Edith Sitwell, and W. B. Yeats all contributed. Eliot wrote six poems for the series, beginning with “The Journey of the Magi” (1927), and ending with “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees” (1954). Fascinating stuff, for sure — but maybe not as fascinating as a veer into zucchini recipes!

    1. I know that everyone has special memories and meaningful traditions, but at that place and time, there was nothing better. Every year, I dig out my DVD of A Christmas Story and revel in its depiction of a time that was ‘my’ time: clinkers in the coal furnace and dares at a frozen flagpole notwithstanding!

  6. Dear Linda, your post is a generous portion of good medicine for all adults who have lost their childhood wonders and wish to regain them before it is too late. Have a wonderful Christmas!

    1. I wish there were an easy recipe for regaining a sense of wonder. Of course, doing so doesn’t necessarily require a return to childhood, even metaphorically. There are plenty of adults who come to a sense of wonder through curiosity, receptivity, and a willingness to engage in the world. More of those qualities would do us all some good!

  7. I wish I could remember the details of my childhood as well as you can. And I’ve always loved the ‘Dear Editor’ and response to Virginia so thanks for reprinting it here.

    1. It’s such an interesting exchange, those letters. It seems clear to me that Mr. Church was writing on two levels: first to little Virginia, but also to the adult readers of his paper. That’s part of the reason the exchange has endured as it has. Virginia was straightforward, and Church didn’t patronize her, as so many adults do with children. I like to think Virginia re-read his response multiple times across the years, understanding it more deeply each time.

    1. The Christmas season is a perfect time for story-telling. It’s a time for slowing down, remembering the past, and creating new memories to be shared in the future.

    1. Isn’t that an interesting line? It reminded me of Luther’s development of the concept of sin as humanity curved in upon itself: homo incurvatus in se. In 2015, The New Yorker magazine published a cover that illustrated the concept perfectly. The obvious reference was the emerging cell phone age, but I suspect that Luther would have chuckled at it as much as I did, and Eliot might have as well.

  8. What great memories–and to have Santa appear when you were in college! Wonder is really a gift to take into adulthood. Not everyone keeps it, and I’m not sure there’s any joy without it. What a great seasonal essay!

    1. Thanks so much; I’m glad you enjoyed it. Santa brought the refillable black lacquer Chanel spray, and I still have that, too. I don’t remember the last time I refilled it, but it was far less costly then that it is now! It’s interesting that one whiff takes me back to Iowa winters; apparently I used lighter scents in spring and summer.

    1. That’s exactly right. As you so often remind us, an adult walking the streets of a new neighborhood — or even a mall — can see things wholly as wonderful as anything a child sees while exploring the world. Limiting where the wonders of the world can appear is tricky business!

  9. Always loved Christmas but never believed in Santa. He was not necessary to my awe, wonder, and love of the Christmas Gift. Even then the Christmas Gift was downplayed somewhat by the gifts. Paper dolls in particular. I probably got the story of Santa through school Christmas plays which would have had Santa and Jesus both presented at that time.

    1. I smiled at your mention of paper dolls. I enjoyed them so much: especially the ones that came with a wardrobe of paper clothing that could be changed at will.

      As important as Santa was for us, he wasn’t the only one who added to our fun. My Swedish family had Santa Lucia, and in a nearby Dutch town the children put out their wooden shoes for St. Nicholas on December 6. But on Christmas Eve, it was the candlelight service and carols that counted, while we remembered why we were celebrating.

      1. You had a wonderful family who carried all the Christmas themes with Joy. We used Wards catalogs to cut out paper dolls. We would cut out the doll then find whatever kinds of clothes might fit, then cut them out being careful to remember to leave tabs. I’ve been extra busy with some health-related stuff. If I have time I have some paper babies with fuzzy dresses I’d like to share with you. I’ll try. You will love them.

        1. The fuzzy-dressed dolls sound wonderful. If you have the time and/or energy to share them, that would be great. Now, you’ve reminded me of some cards my grandparents had. They were like postcards, with people shown on them who were wearing fuzzy clothing. I can’t remember which was which, but the clothing would change from pink to blue and back again as a kind of weather indicator. I suppose it had to do with humidity. They were great fun to watch. I looked and looked for some samples online, but for the first time I couldn’t find any examples. They have to be out there; I just don’t know the right search terms to use.

    1. What fun! The photos are wonderful; I suspect your girls’ memories of that time are as precious as those I hold on to. Of course, we shouldn’t forget the fun those ‘Santas’ had, either. Santas on the payroll of a department store might be one thing, but the Santas who do it for love of the experience are something else entirely.

    1. It is a wonderful time of year, even when unhappy or frustrating events compete for our attention. Even the Scroogiest Scrooge always will fail to dim the holiday’s pleasure, and that’s the most wonderful thing of all.

    1. And not just my parents, which makes the story even more fun. Most people today have no experience of living in a company town, but we did — and the people who worked for the company considered it ‘family’ as much as they did their own relatives. It made perfect sense to ‘do’ for one another, up to and including playing Santa.

    1. It was from one of those upstairs windows that I saw the Star of Bethlehem one year. You’ll never convince me otherwise. As for my dad, we both knew we’d moved into a different stage of Santa belief the year he mentioned that Santa might like a nice bourbon left for him rather than cookies and milk. I just grinned; Santa was more like my dad than I knew.

    1. I’ve never heard of the Polar Express; at least, I don’t remember hearing of it. However! It’s available to rent online, so I’ll include a viewing in between my repeated viewings of A Christmas Story. Best wishes to you and Peggy for a wonder-filled Christmas — wherever you are!

  10. How amazing to have Santa come to your door each year. He came down the chimney at my place, even though, at one house, we didn’t have one. I soon realised it was my parents, but kept the tradition going in case my disbelief put a stop to the excitement. We continued it with our own children, of course.

    1. We didn’t have a chimney, either. But Santa’s nothing if not adaptable, and whatever differences existed between our situation and stories like “The Night Before Christmas” didn’t bother me at all. It might have been my earliest experience of being able to distinguish between ‘fact’ and ‘truth’!

  11. Our Santa came knocking on the door while me and brothers cowered in a corner because his presence was always through loud knocking on the living room door. Oddly enough my dad wasn’t around. My mum said that he went to buy some tobacco. We never really saw this Santa except for a black arm that would poke around the door and a black face with a funny red mitre hat. Santa would then disappear but not without leaving a large bag full of presents. It was after we pulled the bag in the room that my father would be around all of a sudden. It still took a few years to put two and two together.

    1. What a treasure of a story, Gerard. I’m curious about that red mitre. Were you living in Holland at the time? I know that a red mitre like bishops wear is a traditional symbol of St. Nicholas, and we all know about his association with gifts in wooden shoes! I just learned that St. Nick (as we called him) was a bishop, and one of his popular names was “the wonder-worker.” So, we could say that you were able to claim the gifts of the wonder-worker as well as the gift of wonder.

      1. Yes, we were living in Holland at that time. I don’t know how that Mitre came into our house. Dad was never a bishop. They were glorious times back then. It was the fear of the unknown and our curiosity about receiving presents or not, that made it all so wonderful.

  12. Thank you for, once again, reminding us all to wonder. I go outside, particularly in Montana in the dark cold night and look up to the constellations, in order as they have always been. Wonder sabotages doubt in those moments. Merry Christmas to a wonderful woman in every way.

    1. You and Walt Whitman would have made boon companions. He would have liked your Montana horizon and its sky, and if you asked politely, he might have recited this for you:

      When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
      When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
      When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
      When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
      How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
      Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
      In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
      Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

  13. I am reminded of a passage in one of the Pogo books of efforts on behalf of the swamp’s denizens to make sure that grizzle bear’s children got a visit from Santa and the high-jinks that ensued when two (rival) Santas turned up. Santa is part of the spirit of Christmas, and Santa happens when the spirit moves someone to give selflessly. I prefer to do my gift giving with glee and aforethought.

    1. Two Santas would have confused me, that’s for sure. But, we would have had enough cookies and milk for them both, so it probably would have worked out. To paraphrase an old advertising slogan, “Double your Santas, double your fun.”

      I’ve always loved both the giving and the receiving of gifts, and I feel sorry for the high-minded sorts who think that a gift card or a certificate saying a goat’s been donated to a Kurdish village. There’s a place for gift cards, and donating goats is entirely worthy, but at Christmas? I’ll take a candy cane over a gift certificate any time.

    1. Maybe it was just a different sort of magic. I do think our childhood experiences of Christmas set the pattern for us, and any variation can feel awkward. (I still remember my first Christmas in Liberia. No snow? No cold weather? No skating and sledding? How odd!) but by the time I left, palms whispering in the Christmas Eve moonlight were as satisfying as the snow whispering down in Iowa. Here’s to new magic for all of us this year!

  14. In my family, Santa never made an appearance, but gifts always came with a label naming the recipient and signed S Claus or Ms Claus. Thanks for your warming tale, here’s to the season of warmth, wonder, and generosity.

    1. We did much the same thing. Christmas Eve was the time to open gifts from far-flung relatives before going off to Church. Then, on Christmas morning, the gifts that we’d put under the tree were joined by those signed ‘From Santa.’ And of course the stockings were filled, too. Fresh fruit wasn’t common in 1940s Iowa during the winter, and finding an orange, an apple, and a handful of ‘fancy’ shelled nuts in my stocking was a treat I always looked forward to.

  15. too much certainty
    mixed with not enough wonder
    makes the world joyless

    Thanks for bringing a lot of wonder into the blogosphere, Linda. May your Christmas be full of awe and wonder.

    1. Of all the strange — but somehow appropriate — connections to make, your comment brought to mind a Dylan song recorded in 1968 by Peter, Paul, and Mary. Too much certainty can become “too much of nothing” as it sucks spontaneity and joy out of human life.

      Here’s to a season filled with wonder and joy!

    1. Thanks, Jeff. One reason I enjoy the Christmas season so much today is that I can indulge some of these memories, and be grateful all over again for a rich and satisfying childhood.

    1. I tried to remember when I was introduced to Church’s editorial, but I can’t. In our family, it’s entirely possible that it was shared during our Christmas storytime, along with “A Christmas Carol” and “The Night Before Christmas.” I’m glad to have introduced it to you, now. It certainly can speak to everyone, whatever their beliefs, and however they celebrate the season.

  16. The wonder of childhood! Santa was always just a postscript for our family during Christmastide. My memories revolve around Christmas Eve services, holding the candle with the paper cone to keep hot wax from the hand. It was a treat to be able to take part in that. Also anticipated was the bag of fruit, chocolate and nuts delivered by a Santa stand-in (deacon) as we trooped out of church.
    Then Christmas morning, tearing down the stairs and fidgeting with the gifts until the parents decided it was time (after a good breakfast, mind you). Another memory that sticks is burning the unusable wrapping paper (most all of it, given the enthusiasm of unwrapping) in the fireplace and the momentary multi-colored flames that spelled the pause between the gifts and the enjoyment.

    1. I just was amusing myself going through my spam comments for this post and there you were! I have no idea how that happened, but once again the wisdom of actually looking at the spam file before dumping everything has been confirmed!

      We share some of the same memories: particularly the candles at the church service. For us, breakfast came after the great unwrapping. We never burned the paper, though. For one thing, we had no fireplace, but for another, it was family practice to smooth, fold, and save as much paper and ribbon as possible. I suppose that was a result of my mother’s Depression upbringing. It was the custom to re-use package decorations, too. In fact, I will have two clusters of white plastic holly and pine sprays that still sit at the base of a candle every year. Those clusters went from one family member to another for years; they’ve been on packages meant for my mother, my grandmother, an aunt or two, and me — well traveled, indeed.

  17. I’ve always loved that editorial, Linda — such a wise response to a hesitant, questioning child! As for the Santa in-home visits, I’ve long questioned the wisdom of that. Yes, I realize “back in the day” it was perfectly fine for a complete stranger in a red and white suit to show up at your door, invite you onto his lap, and give you presents, but oh my, how times have changed! The innocence of just a few decades is gone and with it — sadly — some of the magic of the season. Sigh.

    1. My goodness. I know my parents never would have allowed a stranger to visit our home as Santa; I didn’t realize that happened anywhere. Because “my Santa” was a co-worker of my father, there never was any concern. It’s true that the department store Santas, and the ones who were part of our parades, were ‘strangers,’ but only in the sense that my family and I didn’t know who they were. But someone did, and there never was an issue.

      Some of that easy celebration still takes place here. Kids still trick-or-treat, and Santa still comes to the park to hear the whispered wishes of children. Even when it comes to holidays, media (social and otherwise) attempt to scare everyone to death: or at least into isolation. It’s been my experience that the world isn’t nearly so threatening as they propose — thank goodness.

      Now, here’s the important question: does Monkey know about Santa? Dixie Rose figured out early that Santa Cat existed, and she expected that she’d get a visit, whether or not she was good!

      1. Monkey doesn’t know about Santa Paws yet. Of course, he gets presents, but he thinks they’re from us. I thought about letting him sit on Santa’s lap this year for a holiday photo, but I was afraid that might be more than a wee pup could handle!

  18. Thank you for this beautiful and eloquent essay, Linda.
    I just finished re-reading “The Man Who Invented Christmas” by Les Standiford and the author writes about Dicken’s love for Christmas, its traditions, and its wonders. If he had lost his faith in the holiday, the world would have never been gifted “A Christmas Carol.”

    1. I’d not heard of that book, but I’ll soon have an opportunity to read it; I just ordered it online, along with an extra copy for a friend. Thanks for mentioning it. Like the film “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Dickens’s “Christmas Carol” captures the spirit of the season so well — along with some terrific insights into the human condition. It seems there’s always a story behind every well-known story. I’m glad Dickens’s story turned out so well.

  19. Clearly, you were a well-loved child! That your parents would keep the tradition of Santa visits going for so long speaks very highly of them. And I’ve always loved the editorial, “yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” When my own children were young and they asked about Santa, my answer was always, “it’s a mystery.” I didn’t want to spoil it for them but I also didn’t want to set them up for disappointment when they realized the truth. It seemed to work….we kept up the tradition of Santa until they were in their teens!

    1. The desire to keep from disappointing someone goes both ways. When one of my cousins learned there’s no actual Santa making the rounds, she didn’t say a word about her new-found knowledge to her parents; she said she didn’t want to take their fun away from them!

      Of course, some of us know the truth. We may say we don’t believe in Santa, but that’s only a cover to keep people from looking askance at us. There’s never been a Christmas in my life that Santa didn’t visit, in one way or another.

  20. Hi Linda – Just sending a thank you for a heart-warming story that made me smile. Actually, I believe my heart is always warm, my fingers & toes, not so much. But you know what I mean. I’m 6.5 years older than my sister, and remember asking to play Santa for her when I was nine or ten – – after she went to bed, I was shaking the bells my father usually took out on the porch roof, and saying Hohoho etc. She wasn’t fooled for a second (my parents told me later) and just sat up in bed and said “Why is Robbie downstairs pretending to be Santa??” By the time my voice changed she was too old to try it again. My dad said he appreciated the effort as he doesn’t like heights and was always worried about falling off the porch roof. Anyway, enjoyed your post a lot.

    1. Every now and then a post or a comment makes me wish all over again that I’d had siblings. Some of the family stories I hear — like this one — are just delightful. One of the nice things about growing older is that the collection of stories grows, too. Around our Christmas table, there were plenty of conversations that began, “Remember the year that…” I suspect your rooftop exploits have ended up in a conversation or two. Here’s wishing you another Christmas with a story or two to add to the collection!

  21. Your parents were wonderful. One is never too old to experience Santa. I think it’s grand that they kept the tradition for so long! Christmas was the one time of year that my dad seemed happy – his smile bigger than life. Each Christmas Eve mom took us to the Lutheran school gym where we five children performed in the parochial school’s Christmas pageant. I always looked forward to having a new dress for the occasion. And, there was always the argument between us siblings over who got the best fruit and nut bag after the pageant. Once home, Santa had arrived with dozens of boxes of wrapped gifts piled around the tree. The glass of milk on the kitchen table was completely gone, and Dad always mentioned that Santa said he’d been eating cookies at every house he stopped at so he only ate one and then said the reindeer were clopping on the roof so hard Santa had to exit in a hurry to take off to the next house! I think Dad enjoyed every moment of Christmas. It’s never been the same since he passed.

    1. Finally! Someone else who knows how special fruit and nuts can be! Some of the simplest things are the most fun, and the most memorable, like the cookies and milk for Santa. I like that your pageant was on Christmas Eve, too. So many churches have moved them to a couple of weeks before Christmas. I suppose there are good reasons for that, but I enjoyed going to ours at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Then, there was the candlelight service later — the best service of the year. If it was snowing when we left the church, it was as close to perfection as could be.

      My mother always got a little too worried about being sure all the details of our celebration were just right, but Dad was a Christmas fool. Actually, our looking-forward-to-Christmas started in January. He always enrolled me in our bank’s Christmas Savings Club, and every week we’d stop by the bank for me to make a deposit. I’d add twenty-five or fifty cents to my account, and the teller would mark it in my deposit book. By the time December rolled around, I had some money of my own to buy gifts. If I did extra work and had earned occasional dollars, I’d feel rich, indeed!

      1. People here in Oklahoma don’t seem to know about the fruit and nut gift bags. When I first moved here I made a few bags up for neighbors. The parochial school I attended is still in operation, and they still give out fruit and nut gift bags after the Christmas pageant. It’s nice to know some traditions still stand.

    1. It still gives me a warm feeling when I remember it all. And if I really want to bring it all back, I indulge in a little spritz of Chanel No.5, and breathe in that long-ago time.

  22. Gini and I were both so blessed to have been raised with that wonder of Santa Claus! We tried our best to continue that tradition with our own children. The military life over 20 years helped as the service “families” always provided a proxy Santa to visit on Christmas Eve. In Germany, we had Father Christmas bring gifts. In Texas, Santa donned a 10-gallon Stetson. Good times.

    Your writing reminded me of my own early memories of Christmases Past, secular and religious.

    As for Santa Claus — thank goodness I have not yet grown up.

    1. I love the thought of you experiencing Santa in so many different forms. After moving to Texas, I had the pleasure of seeing him lead a Christmas parade on a horse rather than on a float; after my initial astonishment, I thought it was terrific. Even in those days I was capable of small parodies on the fly. “Look!” I said. “Santa’s got a brand new nag!”

      Only recently, it’s occurred to me that Santa enriched our celebrations as he did because he was only a part of seasonal rituals that included candle-making, window decorating, cookie baking. Although my understanding of him changed, the other traditions went right on, and the pleasure never diminished. Today, when I dust off those traditions for myself, there’s Santa: standing in the background, and smiling.

  23. Best rubber-duck-story ever! While we children soon outgrew belief in Santa, our belief that fairies surely inhabited the winter mullein seed stalks persisted for years. Thanks for resurrecting that memory!

    1. Fairies in the flowers? What’s not to like about that? I used to serve up plantain seed stew to my dolls, but I never thought of fairies living in those stalks. Maybe they prefer mullein!

  24. You have such wonderful memories…and a wonderful memory. I remember little from my childhood that resemble tales that you share. I always enjoy seeing pictures of “Linda the Younger” and the one here was delightful in your pretty dress and delicately ribboned hair.

    Yours is also the first story I have heard of Santa visiting an awake household. Surely you were not the only one the gentleman visited and surely also it was done in other communities but it’s a first for me. Whether it was a regular route for the man or an arrangement by your folks how nice. You told it so well that in a way it was like experiencing it myself. And I echo Sam’s comment…best rubber ducky story ever.

    Thanks for the “letter”. I had never read the whole thing although “yes, Virginia” is almost universally known.

    1. I had to laugh at your mention of the ribbons in my hair. Those weren’t ribbons; they were pink rubber hair curlers. They were used in those days to create Shirley Temple-like ‘finger curls,’ and my mother was determined that I should have some.

      ‘Santa’ was one of my dad’s co-workers. He went to the homes of all the engineers who had kids, and kept it up for years. I only learned that years after his visits ceased, but I’m sure he would have kept up those yearly visits to everyone who still was in the area. In those days of employment stability in a company town, ‘co-workers’ really did become like a family.

      Here’s one of my favorite stories that demonstrates how close the bonds were. My folks played bridge for years with Mr. and Mrs. ‘Santa,’ and two other couples. One night, after a few hands of bridge and a few drinks, they decided that they needed to buy their cemetery plots together so they could keep playing bridge in heaven. So, they did; they bought four plots right next to each other out at our city’s cemetery. One by one, the couples passed away, until my mom was the only one still living. Near the end of her life, she grinned and said, “Well, at least we’ll finally have two full tables again.”

      1. Fooled me. Of course, I never had my hair in a Shirley Temple doo and never saw any of my schoolgirl chums with curlers. Believe it or not, in elementary years I had more girls for friends than boys which worried my parents back in those dark days.

        That’s a lovely story about your folks and their friends. Mary Beth and I have something a bit similar. It’s in our will for one of my former co-workers who likes to climb mountains (he’s much younger so hopefully will outlive us), to take our ashes and those of our dogs, mix them all together, and spread them on the side of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia N.P. somewhere. None of our dogs have been there but they always wanted to be with us so I don’t think they’d object.

        Working for a small family owned business we experience that kind of stability on a much smaller scale. We do have turnover but several of us have been long term with me having been there the longest of anyone-44+ years now. I have no plans to entirely retire, down to three or four days a week at this point, and my employer, the original owner’s daughter, just hit 60 so she may decide she’s had enough before I do.

  25. Your father was an extraordinarily clever man and a good one to think on his feet! I love this more than I can say and I’m glad I saved it till I could really spend the time it deserved to savor it. (And speaking of necklaces, I am enchanted — you know what I mean! Thank you!) Merry Happy In-Between Week!

    1. The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day may be my favorite of the year. For a variety of circumstances, I’ve been savoring a slower pace; I’m glad you savored my story.
      Dad was clever: more than I realized as a kid. I suppose that’s the way things go for us all. We keep right on learning about our families, and keep appreciating them more, even after they’re gone.

      I thought you deserved a little bright and sparkly this year. Enjoy!

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