For as long as I can remember, Santa Claus has been an active participant in my family's Christmas tradition. My parents were really big on the magic of the season, and they went to elaborate lengths to make the holiday special for my two sisters and me. This included a personal visit from the big man himself.
Each year after the early children's Christmas Eve service at church, my parents would feed us a light meal, make sure we put on our brand new pajamas, and put us to bed. All of this was done before 8:00 pm.
A few hours later, in the middle of the night, my mom would come to our rooms and wake us from a deep sleep, telling us to hurry up because Santa was ready to leave, and we didn't want to miss him.
With our eyes barely open, my sisters and I would stumble down the stairs, nervously clinging to our mom as Santa would greet us by name, tell us what good girls we had been, and hand each of us a present. Then he would leave to finish delivering his presents to all the other good children of the world, and we would start unwrapping our gifts, still slightly stunned and awestruck.
In all our excitement, we didn't realize that my dad was missing until he walked in the door. Each year we were told that he had to rush to the 24-hour convenience store to buy ice. I did wonder why he never remembered to stock up on the stuff because we always seemed to run out each Christmas Eve, but I didn't give it too much thought because there were all these presents to open.
When I was eight I learned the truth about Santa, but my dad continued to wear the suit even after my sisters joined me in the nonbelievers club. I was about 24 when he finally put the suit in storage.
When my first child was born 18 years ago, he and the suit came out of retirement. Each year since then, he has delighted my three kids, and my sisters' kids, too.
Last Christmas Eve my parents decided to add a little excitement to our celebration and hired someone to play Santa. They just didn't tell their daughters of this new plan.
I have to say that my sisters and I were starting to wonder why dad was taking so long to, "leave for the store" and start the festivities. Perhaps at 75 this was just becoming too much for him. Would this be the last year for Santa? Though Sandi and I had kids who ranged in ages from 17 to 10 and no longer believed, my sister Wendy's boys were only 7 and 5. It seemed a shame that they wouldn't grow up with the same tradition we did.
All of a sudden Sandi came over to where Wendy and I were sitting.
"They hired a professional Santa."
Wendy and I looked at her in disbelief. Another Santa? What's the world coming to?
With that the doorbell rang.
My 17-year-old, Tom, gave us the funniest, most confused look ever as my mother told him to answer the door. He didn't know what the heck was going on, or who could possibly be on the other side of the door since my dad was sitting comfortably in the living room.
The other six kids were now getting excited. My mom was doing her yearly, "I-wonder-if-this-could-be-Santa" routine, and my dad got up from the couch and grabbed his camera.
Tom answered the door, and I heard a laugh I hadn't heard since he was a small boy. There was Santa wishing him a Merry Christmas and asking to come in. Teens and tweens who just seconds ago were busy with cell phone games or texting friends were now giggling away as the man in red sat on the couch and started to call their names.
I found myself torn between looking at my three children caught up in the magic of the moment, the awe on Wendy's two little boys faces, and my own parents grinning from ear to ear. All of sudden I wasn't just a grown woman with a husband, a mortgage, and three kids of her own. I was also my parents little girl, feeling the same twinge of excitement I felt so many years before.
I don't know how my parents did it, but they made a true believer of me that night. Santa Claus is real, I know it as clearly as I know my own name. He may not live at the North Pole, but his spirit is alive and well and living in the same house I grew up in. And for that I'm eternally grateful.
Wishing you all the happiness of whatever holiday you and your family celebrate. May we all feel a bit of the joy and awe we did as children.
This piece was first published on Kathy's site, My Dishwasher's Possessed!