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A Holiday Story

I wish everyone a wonderful holiday season and hope you have a special memory that makes you smile.

The Gift
My sisters and I swayed like pine trees in the wind as Burl Ives sang “Silver and Gold.” Each time we saw the hairy abominable snowman, we shrieked in unison. The three of us were like stick figure characters, all arms and legs. I was almost seven years old when Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer first aired on television. Dianne, the middle sister, was five years old and Sandy, the youngest, was four years old. We were a bunch of wiggly giggly girls, completely enchanted with Rudolf and his friends.

A few nights later, on Christmas Eve, we were still singing songs from that show. At bedtime, we stood with our arms straight up and let our mom drop our nightgowns over our heads. For Christmas, we wore matching green plaid flannel nightgowns trimmed with lace. Although giddy with excitement, we performed our nightly winter rituals. We lived in a big old house in New England. The heat came out of metal vents on the floor. Each night, we’d find a vent and stand over it, letting the hot air puff out our nightgowns and warm our bodies. On this special night, we imitated Santa, rubbing our hot air bellies and yelling “Ho, ho, ho” in our deepest voices. Mom reminded us, “Santa won’t come until you all fall asleep.” On Christmas Eve, we didn’t have to be told twice to do something.

Alone in my room, I lay still and quiet, straining my ears to hear reindeer paws on the roof, or the jingle of bells, or even Santa’s hearty laugh. Sometime later my mom was in the room gently shaking me awake. “Val, Santa’s here,” she whispered. I jumped out of bed and ran down the hallway to my sisters’ bedroom.

“Wake up, wake up, Santa, Santa,” I shouted pulling off their covers. They rubbed their eyes with little fists and trailed after me. We were a fast moving parade of green flannel, tangled hair and bare feet.

I stopped at the threshold of the living room with my sisters bumping and poking behind me. There, sitting in our biggest chair, was Santa. I thought we must be the best girls on the street because Santa was in our house waiting to give us our presents. Santa waved his white-gloved hand in my direction. “Ho, ho, little girl, do you want to sit on Santa’s lap?”

I looked at my mom, dad and grandma all watching me with big grins. I scampered over and climbed onto his lap. Santa had a big belly and his velvet suit was soft and tickly on my ankles and feet. I looked into his crinkly eyes with anticipation.

“Who do we have here?” Santa asked.

“Santa, it’s me, Valerie and I’ve been good,” I chirped.

“So you have, and I have some presents for you.”

As he reached for my gifts, his beard moved away from his face. I leaned in for a closer look. Santa’s beard was not growing out of his skin; it was lying on top of it. I started to feel shaky inside. Something was wrong with Santa. I recognized his eyes, and I had heard that gruff voice before. Was this some kind of trick? Was my grandfather pretending to be Santa? I didn’t know what to do so I searched for my mom’s face with my nervous eyes. She came to us, took my hand and I slid off Santa’s lap. We walked around the corner into the dining room. I could hear Santa calling one of my sisters to the place I just left.

“What is wrong with you Valerie?” my mom asked.

“Mom, that’s not Santa, that’s Grampy,” I whispered.

“You are right; now don’t ruin it for your sisters. Let them believe it is Santa.”

I nodded yes and went back into the living room. I found a spot on the leopard print sofa near my grandmother. I tucked my knees under my nightgown trying to get really small. I had a lot to think about. Gram reached over and pulled me close to her. She almost tipped me over, and I had to kick my legs out of my nightgown for balance. I leaned into her and inhaled her scent. Mixed in with the Estee Lauder were the onions she’d slice every day in her sub shop. While my sisters had their fun with Santa, I tried to sort through my jumbled feelings. I had a lot of questions, but I could not ask anyone for answers. In my frustration, I wanted to cry out loud, and I remembered my mom’s words.

If Santa wasn’t real, then I guess the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy were made up too. I had my doubts about those two already. But Santa, I really loved him. The more I thought about it, I realized that it wasn’t just Santa I loved. I loved the lights decorating the houses, the smell of the tree in the living room and how cheerful everyone seemed that time of the year.

Lost in my thoughts, I hadn’t noticed the presents piling up at my feet. As I ripped the paper off my gifts, the ache in my heart got smaller. I looked up from my gifts and saw the tired and happy faces of my parents and grandparents. I thought about everything they had done to prepare for this special night: Grampy dressing up as Santa, my parents hanging up our stockings and buying and wrapping all our gifts. They even put ribbon candy in the fancy candy dish. I wondered how they did all of this without our finding out.

Faintly I could hear the radio playing holiday music. One of my favorite songs “Little Drummer Boy” was playing. I listened for my favorite part, the sound of the drums. I remembered when I first understood that a song had many parts. More than just the singer’s voice, other people played instruments to make the music behind the singer’s voice. Figuring that out made me feel more grown up. I was feeling more grown up this night too.

I felt all shivery like I had goose bumps on the inside instead of the outside. I was beginning to understand something. Love was more than what you received from others – that was the small part of love. The big part of love was the giving part. My parents and grandparents gave us the magic of Christmas, and they weren’t expecting anything in return. I now had that responsibility with my sisters. I would keep the holiday magic alive for them. My frustration turned to joy that night and that joy filled up my little girl heart. Love was my gift to give that Christmas.