When I was growing up, my father took Christmas very seriously. By that I mean that he always reverted to childhood as the holiday approached. He made every effort to ensure that his two boys believed in Santa Claus for as long as possible.
We always left a cold beer and an apple out for Santa. Not cookies and milk. As the story was told to us, Santa always got cookies. By the time he got to our house, he was tired and needed a cold brewski to keep him going. The apple was just a nice touch. A little something different for him.
One year, we bought reindeer food. Looking back, it was little more than a $10 bag of hay and gold glitter. But what’s $10 when it comes to a child’s innocence? We left that reindeer food out, along with the typical apple and bottle of Budweiser. The next morning, low and behold, all was gone.
The kicker? Out in the front yard, in the snow, was a pile of poo…with reindeer food sprinkled on top. Who doesn’t believe when this happens???? I was TEN!
Another year, we lived in an apartment, so it wasn’t hard to look around for presents that friends told us were somewhere in the house. There were no presents in any closet or our basement. The next morning we both had our own Radio Flyer wagons.
Where did they come from? The logic of a child had us ask. We had already told my dad of what our friends were saying at school. Santa isn’t real. We just can’t prove it. He asked, “How’d those wagons get here then? Where’d we hide them? Don’t believe? Just look outside! We’d have to bring them from outside. Wouldn’t we? Where’s our tracks?” We spent the last week pulling the apartment apart. There were no wagons until after we fell asleep on the 24th. Outside, there was 10 inches of fresh snow. No footprints and no wagon wheel tracks anywhere. MAGIC!
As early as I remember, and moving all the way into adulthood, my father sneaked into our bedroom at about 2:30AM on Christmas morning. He’d wake us up and say that Santa came. As we jumped and screamed, he’d shush us and tell us that he was going to go back to bed. Give him 10 minutes and then come in and wake them both up. He NEVER slept on Christmas Eve.
Later, much later, in life, I learned that our dad bought the neighbor’s dog poo the day before to sprinkle the glittered hay onto. The wagons? They were across the street, still in boxes, at my grandparents house. My dad and grandpa built them that night, carried them to our apartment, walked back to my grandparents, and swept over his tracks with a broom.
My parents always used different wrapping paper from neighbors and always signed Santa’s name with their left hands so their handwriting was different.
This year. I lost both my dad and my grandpa (among others).
As I realize my wife and I will sit here by ourselves this Christmas, with no other family around, I struggle to find the Christmas Spirit. We went to the mall this weekend to use a Groupon my wife had. The painted Beautiful People and fistfuls of gargantuan bags of fresh purchases in everyone’s hands made me feel dirty. Then I realize…
I’m grateful that my understanding of Christmas is what it is: a beautiful time of magic and wonder. A time of making dreams come true, forgetting the world around you for a moment. A helping hand, not a sticky hand full of candy and wrapping paper. Snow and freshness. A time to reflect on the good, forget the bad.
This Christmas, I remember the men that made me love Christmas.