T’was the night before Christmas and we’d already opened our presents. Forget the dancing sugar plums. If you ever wondered how Santa Clause could deliver presents to all the kids on earth in one night, he got a running start by bringing all the kids in the Midwest their presents early on Christmas Eve. In our house, Christmas Eve started the minute we finished wolfing down our supper. It was the one time of year when I was thankful that we had supper at 4 o’clock.
Before I was school age, Santa came to our house every Christmas Eve.
He didn’t come down the chimney. If he had, he’d end up in our coal furnace and it wouldn’t just be his suit that was red. He boldly walked through our front door. Not that I’d ever really seen him come into the house. But my Dad had.
After supper, Dad would hide behind the living room davenport, and Mom would herd my sisters and I down onto the basement stairs and then close the door behind us. For some unknown reason, Dad always got to hide behind the davenport, so that he could see Santa Clause when he came in.
As soon as the door was closed, Dad would quietly sidle out from behind the davenport and tiptoe across the room and into the bedroom where our presents were carefully hidden in our one closet. He’d quickly carry them into the living room and place them haphazardly under the Christmas tree. When the presents were all under the tree he would tiptoe across the living room floor and into the dining room and carefully open the front door. With a sigh of relief, he would softly stroll out to the front of the porch and pause for a moment. Coming back into the house Dad was Santa Clause. No need for a suit or cotton-ball beard. The only one who could see him was him. As he came striding across the front porch, he’d stomp the non-existent snow off of his non-existent boots and when he opened the front door he’d call out a “Ho, Ho, Ho!” in his best Santa-voice. Once inside the house, he’d make a lot off fuss in the living room, as if he was unloading presents from his sack. All the time, I was hunched breathlessly behind the basement door, visualizing his every move. When the presents were in place, Santa didn’t have to stop and eat a plate full of cookies and drink a glass of milk on the way out. We never left anything for him. We didn’t want Santa to stick around, once he’d delivered our presents. Besides, he would have preferred a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon, but that would have blown his cover. As Dad headed noisily out the front door he’d call over his shoulder, “Ho, Ho, Ho, and a Merry Christmas to all!” and stomp his way across the front porch only to pause there once again. Then, it was a matter of sneaking back into the house without our hearing him so that he could hide behind the davenport. Mom always gave him enough time by telling us that we couldn’t come out until we were sure he was gone, or we’d scotch the whole thing.
Mom would cautiously open the door, and we’d all burst into the living room. Or, at least I would burst. I’d be full of excitement, and start grilling Dad about what he’d seen.
“Did you see him, dad?”
“Oh yeah: I peeked around the corner of the davenport when he was putting the presents under the tree,” he answered.
“Did you see his reindeer?”
“Naw: I couldn’t see them from behind the davenport, but I heard their bells when they took off.”
That was enough for me. It never occurred to me to ask the really hard questions like :”If he had all that snow on his boots, how come he didn’t track any into the house? Mom would have had a fit!” Or, “How come there aren’t any tracks in the snow in our front yard?” By then, the only question I had was “Can we open the presents, now?”
When I got older and realized that Santa Clause was my Mom and Dad, and I had been lovingly duped: not just by Mom and Dad, but by my sisters, Christmas took on more meaning. One thing about Mom, though. She always made it clear that Christmas wasn’t just about getting presents. The most important thing was that it was a time to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus. Those first few years, Santa Clause and the baby Jesus got along real well together, and I loved them both. It wasn’t until I was four or five that I realized that only Jesus was real.