I remember that Christmas like it was yesterday. I was nine and my whole world had been turned upside down. It was the year I made the ultimate discovery for any child at Christmas. My parents were Santa Claus! I had heard it at school, but I refused to believe it. How could that be? Why would they lie to me? Could I ever trust them again?
I confronted my mother. She took me into the other room and said we would discuss it later, but I was NOT to talk about it with my two younger sisters. And she gave me THAT LOOK. The one that said, “Obey—or else” and there was no way I wanted the “or else”.
Later didn’t come for a few days. I was in torment, not knowing what to think, how to act. All I knew was, I couldn’t talk about it with anybody.
We had our traditional Christmas Eve day. We baked cookies. The kind of cookies that melted in your mouth, and were dreamt about for months afterwards. Mom rolled out the dough, and we cut, after they were baked and cooled, we got to ice them. So anything in the kitchen that wasn’t covered in flour, was covered in brightly colored icing, crunchy colored sugar, and those funny little silver balls.
After dinner, mom finished cleaning up the kitchen and sent my sisters off to bed, but I was allowed to stay up a little longer that year. I had a feeling we were finally going to have that talk.
We talked about Santa, how he’s the Spirit of Christmas, and he wasn’t really going to arrive with a bag of gifts but that, yes, mom and dad provided the gifts. Then she went on to talk about what else was going to happen.
“Hon,” mom hesitated, “I was hoping this wouldn’t happen for another year, but maybe it’s a good thing. We can use your help. Your dad’s been working late these past few weeks, and the reason is Christmas. Daddy is going to be getting a special paycheck tonight, and you’re going to get to help him spend some of it.”
“How can I help Daddy spend the money? What are we going to buy?”
“Well, you know that “Santa” always brings us a decorated Christmas tree, as well as the gifts. So this year, you get to help Daddy. He’ll be here in a few minutes. So you need to get dressed for the cold, don’t forget your snow boots, and when Daddy gets home, you’ll go with him. Okay?”
I was going to go with him? I was going to help play Santa? Oh wow!
The apartment door opened and Daddy came in, he held his finger to his lips, so I wouldn’t wake the girls, and beckoned me to join him. Mom and Dad whispered for a minute, while I finished fastening my coat, then we left.
We drove a few blocks, until we came to a lot that was bright with lights strung all around and had Christmas trees sitting on it. Daddy and I walked around and around the lot, looking at all the trees. Finally we agreed on the same tree, and the man from the little building helped us tie it to the roof of the car.
I was so excited I could barely sit still. Some of my school friends already had their trees, but in our family, it had always appeared with the gifts on Christmas morning. It was a part of our Christmas gift, to wake up and see that beautiful angel topped tree, covered in shiny tinsel, and ornaments and wrapped with the colored paper chains we made every year. Nothing could be more special than to walk out and “ooh” and “ahh” over the breathtaking tree. To sit beside it and drink hot chocolate and eat freshly baked cinnamon rolls. To quiver with anticipation while we wondered if one of those packages would contain the baby doll we wanted. My sister had been begging for a “Betsy Wetsy” for weeks now.
The three of us decorated the tree. Dad lifted me up and let me put the star on top. I can still see it, and if I close my eyes, and try really hard, I can smell the pine. Yes, I think that was one of my best Christmas’ ever. The year I helped play Santa.
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