We call our 3 1/2 year old grandson 'party in a body'. He loves everyone he meets, but tends to take cues from his older sister. If she's scared, he's scared. If she wants a pink popsicle he does too. This year he somehow overcame her hesitation and enjoyed his Santa visit more than years past. I can totally see him, someday, dressing up for his own kids' Christmases.
Each week I ask them what they want for Christmas. So far the list includes a bunny, many things 'Frozen', a baby that wets, dinosaurs and a harmonica for him. I advised that the bunny may not be a big possibility because Santa somehow knows not to bring things parents don't approve of. Generally anything alive falls in that category.
Their visit to see the big guy made me think back to my own childhood. I don't remember ever actually going to see Santa anywhere. There weren't malls back then, so maybe Santa wasn't available? I think we mailed him letters. I do remember family rides in the car, all six kids in tow, as we drove through downtown Beaumont, Texas. Bright red and green lights swung between streetlights. The downtown stores had corner windows filled with big, beautiful displays that moved and played music, pure magic to me. All that artificial snow looked convincing to a little girl who had never seen the real thing.
In the evenings, after it was dark, the six of us walked down the streets of our neighborhood, singing carols at neighbors' doors, and they'd reward us with hot cocoa and treats. Imagine that today! Going into the houses of neighbors, and eating and drinking what was offered to you - how our times have changed, and not for the good.
We never had a fireplace. It wouldn't have been very necessary in southeast Texas, and we didn't have real stockings either. Instead, we took my father's socks and hung them somewhere. After Christmas they were inches longer, from having an orange nestled down in the toe overnight.
I remember the year I asked for a Thumbelina doll, and got her. Oh how I loved her. I remember brothers with hair sticking up on Christmas morning, and everyone in pajamas that did not match, and scrawny trees decorated with strings of popcorn and boxes and boxes of icicles that fell all in clumps, and mama left them that way. I remember getting up way too early and being sent back to bed, and the laying there staring at the ceiling, waiting for time to pass.
I remember the white tissue paper and red squiggle ribbon wound around the packages. In later years I would recognize it as my mother's signature. And there was Daddy always, always sitting in the living room in his post office uniform, so he could go back to work on Christmas afternoon, delivering 'specials' to pay for our presents. I still remember to this day the year I gave him an ash tray, even though he didn't smoke. I wonder if he remembers that?
When I was about eight or nine our parents' friends, John and Claire, who were from Massachusettes and had a funny way of talking, showed up for a 'surprise visit' on Christmas Eve. While Daddy and Mama were busy visiting, my older brother took me out to the driveway, showed me the blanket-covered pile in the back seat of their locked car, and told me the truth. The magic of that night died for me, only hours before bed. For all the debate on 'yes' to Santa or 'no' to Santa, I still love knowing that young children, for a handful of years, go to bed on Christmas Eve and try hard to go to sleep so Santa can come. The angst of that night, the belief in the magic of it all, is something dear to my heart still.
Fifty years after that night, there's sweetness in knowing the struggle my parents must have had, to put any presents under that pitiful tree. To buy fresh oranges and candy canes for each of us, to come up with a Thumbelina doll, a BB gun, a record player for my big sister. That's the real gift - looking back and knowing who was really giving, and how much it cost them to try to live up to the magic of Christmas morning.