Hopefully my fuzzy memory doesn’t disappoint the reader too terribly, but I’ll just come out and admit that I don’t recall many sensory details that go back as far as this particular Christmas story happens to.
Now, that’s not to say I missed out on the universally appreciated experiences that we learn to recognize as gifts from Winter.
Some of them remain more deeply etched across my mind than others, like the satisfyingly loud crunching sound of your boots as they stomp the freshly fallen orange and yellow leaves lining the streets.
The sound of my grandfather nailing the Christmas lights up outside my window.
The Surrealism of Snow
Or the first morning you wake up to the total transformation of your familiar surroundings by something as simple as snow.
I do remember those innocent couple of moments washing over me as I stood looking out at my driveway, the fence posts and the cars all covered in a snowy flawlessness.
When you are that young, you can’t really ever prepare yourself for that possibility before routinely glancing out the window.
Even if every adult in the house was warning you that it could get cold enough while you were sleeping that night, as they tucked you into bed.
Maybe at that age, you haven’t seen enough years yet to anticipate things like snow.
Not to mention, you haven’t had a chance to look out any other window as often as the one in your bedroom at that point either.
Counting Down the Days
I suppose I must have been about 7 years old for this particular Christmas, which means that I was in the first grade.
My teacher that year was named Mrs. Stiger and I remember liking her more than I’d thought I would on the first day of school.
She was a little different than my Kindergarten teacher was.
Her name had been Miss Cindy, and she possessed that unmistakable glow that’s shared by all women who teach children of that age.
But first grade wasn’t like Kindergarten at all, I remember that rather well. Instead of naps, snack time and doodling in our journals, we were learning how to read and do basic arithmetic.
These more serious intellectual pursuits were naturally delivered by a more serious type of teacher, and Mrs. Stiger was exactly that.
Miss Cindy had felt more like a friend or a babysitter, which isn’t too far off when I think about it.
She played with us and praised us for our scribble drawings, always wearing an expression that started as a smile and never morphed into much else.
Though despite being far more strict and having a lower tolerance for nonsense, Mrs. Stiger proved far more memorable, even now as I struggle to revisit my year spent with each of them.
I remember that on the very first day of December, Mrs. Stiger announced that we would be doing a very neat arts and crafts project.
We were going to create a Christmas chain, using red and green construction paper and glue sticks.
I didn’t know what a Christmas chain was, but I knew anything including the word ‘Christmas’ had to be worth getting excited about.
Next, she demonstrated how they were constructed as she explained what their purpose was.
She told us that we needed to cut and glue together exactly 24 construction paper rings, and each one represented a day of the month. The twenty-fourth ring was made using a different color of paper, to indicate Christmas Eve was upon us.
This was sounding more and more exciting to me, and I wanted her to stop talking so I could get my hands on some paper and scissors sooner.
But there was one more part of the story, she quickly added.
After we made our chains, we could take them home with us and show our parents so they could hang them up in the house.
Each day when we arrived home from school, she urged us to remind mom and dad that it was time to tear off another one of the rings, since Christmas was one day closer!
We got to remove a ring from the chain at the end of each day in December, and when there was no more rings left to remove, that meant Christmas was finally here.
Sitting there at my table with the three or four other kids in my group as we started slicing away madly with our round-edged scissors and pressing our glue sticks into the strips of paper much harder than was necessary, it felt like a little vacation back to the world we had known the year before that, when we were still in Kindergarten.
It was nice and it felt familiar in a comforting way.
We had tons of fun making those silly little things, but when we were finished, it was back to struggling through the pronunciation of those very first books we had ever read, each of them heavily illustrated and having no more than a few words printed on each page.
When I eagerly showed my mother my Christmas creation, she was overjoyed and it felt like an early celebration that day when we cut our first ring off the very long chain of alternating red and green construction paper.
I wished we didn’t have to wait a whole day before we could cut off the next one, but there was no way to speed up the passing of that very long month.
Even my tremendous excitement could not hurry it along; it mounted with the passing of each day and the removal of each paper ring.
Proof That Santa Claus Does Exist
Every year before that one since I could remember, my mother and I had baked a fresh batch of Christmas cookies the night before Santa Claus came to deliver my presents under the giant, heavily decorated tree that stood in our big living room.
While I mostly helped her with things like licking the cookie dough bowl clean after she stuck the loaded cookie sheet in the oven, it felt like I was still part of the whole process just by being in the kitchen, standing on my little stool to reach the counter better.
Watching her as she added the vanilla extract, cracked the eggs open and started mixing everything together to end up with the yummiest dough I’d ever tasted, a warmness traveled through me and made me feel like I was in on some important secret each Christmas Eve.
It was too bad that we weren’t allowed to see Santa Claus when he came to bring the presents, since he would only come once you were fast asleep and only if you had been good all that year too.
I knew he must be real though, even if I had never actually seen him.
I knew he was real because that plate of beautiful cookies and that tall glass full of milk that we left sitting out by the tree before going to bed was always empty the next morning when we all woke up and rejoined in the living room.
Yep, that’s right. He only ever left some crumbs.
I remember one year I insisted that my mother and I leave a big carrot too, for the reindeer. So we did just that. And it was gone in the morning as well.
It must have been that year, or the one before it, that my mother had taken me to the shopping mall sometime during December.
While we were there, I saw a man dressed up like Santa who looked just like him.
There was a line of other little kids waiting to sit on his lap, so they could tell him what they wanted him to leave under their trees that year.
Someone was taking a picture of each kid while they sat on his lap and whispered in his ear.
I asked my mother if it was really Santa Claus, because I didn’t think he would just come out to the store and do that.
She explained to me that it wasn’t actually the real Santa Claus, of course.
She said it was just a nice man who dressed up just like him, so the kids could have their picture taken with him.
She shrugged it off as being perfectly understandable, considering that it was impossible to get a picture with the real guy, after all.
That made sense to me.
Writing My Christmas List for Santa
I had only one important thing left to do in preparation for Christmas that year.
I still needed to be sure that I wrote my Christmas list, so I could mail it to the North Pole in time to ensure that Santa knew what presents to bring me that year.
I asked my mother how it could get all the way there to the North Pole?
She said he didn’t need to use a mailbox, like we did for other kinds of mail.
She explained that if I simply left my list near the Christmas tree, that one of his elves would sneak in and pick it up for him.
She said that’s how it has always worked.
The elves are sent out to pick up the Christmas gift lists from all the children, so they can return to the North Pole and deliver them to Santa Claus in time to make all the presents we wanted.
I was shocked and couldn’t believe how neat that was.
I wrote my list as quickly as I could jot it down, then loudly announced that I was about to put it by the tree for the elves to come pick up.
I ran into the living room, set it down frantically right next to the tree and immediately asked my mom when the elf would show up.
She laughed at the question, reminding me that we weren’t allowed to see the elves.
They were magical, didn’t I remember?
They would wait until you weren’t looking, just like Santa does on Christmas.
Hearing that, I began racing out of the living room and ran outside to the front porch, where my father was cutting wood for the fireplace.
I breathlessly relayed all the information shared with me but a moment ago by my mother, and then bolted back into the living room before I had even finished explaining it all.
I wanted to see if he had taken it yet. I must have been out of the room for less than two or three minutes.
When I walked up to the tree, the paper with my gift list written on it was gone. I couldn’t believe that.
How did he get there so fast, I just left for a second?!
The first thing I wanted to do was go tell my mom and everyone else I knew.
I ran into the kitchen and excitedly told my mother that she was right, and he had already been here and taken my list!
She smiled and reassured me that she knew what she was talking about the whole time.
This was so amazing that I didn’t want to stop there.
I had never come this close to being in the same room with a magical elf!
Maybe if I was really fast, I would catch him turning a corner really quick or something. Just maybe.
When Santa came with presents, we had to be asleep all night long so he could finish visiting all the houses in the world.
The elves must have been so much faster, since there was lots of them! It felt much closer to something I’d actually seen.
I wanted to do it again immediately.
Writing Another List for Santa
I yelled to my mother that I forgot something on my list, and began to scribble something, anything, on another scrap of paper that meant nothing at all to me.
Again, I raced into the living room and put it in the same place, so he could find it easily.
I ran out for what couldn’t have been longer than a minute or two, then came sprinting back in to find another missing piece of paper that the elf had undeniably just snatched up a second time on his way back to the North Pole.
He was probably already back there making my toys, I thought.
That second time was even more amazing, felt even closer to real magic that I had somehow been witness to.
Shortly after this, my uncle showed up at the house to borrow something my aunt needed.
I was overjoyed to have another person who I could share this unbelievable story with, and before he had a chance to speak a word to my mother, I blurted out the entire thing to him.
I shared the secret with him, that an elf had been to my house to take my list to Santa.
Not once, but two times!
Yeah, he came twice and took both of my lists off the table next to the tree, I swore to god it was true.
I spent the entire rest of that afternoon leaving Santa’s elves notes by the tree.
Each time they disappeared in another couple blinks of my eyes, I became all the more delighted and magical things seemed all the more real and certainly possible, at the least.
My Poor Mother
About a year later, all the other kids at school began to figure out that there was, in fact, no Santa Claus.
That meant there was no elves either.
I remember being disappointed when I confirmed those things, but it wasn’t until many years later that I realized how busy I had kept my mother that whole afternoon.
Only then did it also dawn on me how amazingly wonderful it was of her to do that for me, all those times.