I never really saw mommy kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe like that song says, but I did in fact see Santa Claus once. When I told my friends, neighborhood kids somewhat close to my age, they laughed and howled and teased me mercilessly. My cousin didn’t believe me either when I told her, but she was much kinder in her retorts, and her teasing was much gentler. I don’t know why they didn’t believe me, for I was indeed telling them the absolute truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
I still remember the first Christmas that I was really aware of Santa. I remember waking up on Christmas morning and not knowing exactly what to do. Should I wait for Mom or Dad? Should I go out to the living room where the Christmas tree is and see for myself if there is anything for me? What if he didn’t come? I decided to play it safe and woke up my dad and we walked out to the living room together. When we rounded the corner and got our first look at the evidence that Santa had indeed stopped by sometime during the night, Dad did this silly and exaggerated double take that made me giggle, and then I ran and started enjoying the toys that were left behind. I think Dad went back to bed.
That memory of a Christmas past was when we lived in Austin in a house on Syracuse Cove. Our last Christmas in that house was in 1965, and that might have been the one where Dad did his goofy little dance. I can’t be sure. But I do know that a few weeks before Christmas Day 1965, on my 5th birthday, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” debuted on television. As a child, the real message of this program was mostly lost on me because I was more interested in Snoopy dancing and Charlie Brown’s tree. It wasn’t until some years later that I began to appreciate his frustrations with the commercialization of Christmas.
Just this last week, I watched again as Linus answered Charlie Brown’s question of “Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about?” by quoting from the second chapter of The Gospel of Luke, verses 8 through 14: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” I’m not ashamed to admit that this scene for some reason makes me cry, and last week was no exception.
We moved to our house on Sierra Madre sometime in 1966. That first Christmas in this new house was also the first one where we were treated to the other television event of the season in the form of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” These became perennial favorites in our home each Christmas, as did (to a slightly lesser degree) “Frosty the Snowman” (1969), and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964). There were other specials that we all enjoyed over the years, but those 4 animated classics remain the favorites from my own childhood.
These days, I also add “A Christmas Story” (1983) to my collection of “must see” Christmas specials. I have to admit that Kelley “got it” before I did, but now I get a never-ending kick out of Ralphie’s quest for an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle, only to be told time and time again “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” And as with Linus’ reciting from scripture, when Scott Calvin’s ex-wife realizes that he is really Santa in the original “The Santa Clause” (1994), those waterworks seem to want to turn on.
But back to my sighting. When I was about 8 or so, an age when some children start become somewhat cynical and start looking for the angle in everything, my bedroom in our house on Sierra Madre was between my parent’s room and the room my younger sisters occupied. My bed was along the wall that the hallway shared, which came in handy on most nights. Mom always left a light on in the hallway and also left my door cracked a little. On most nights I would move down to the foot of my bed, the end nearest to the door, and would read by the sparse light coming in from the hallway. These days I’m convinced that Mom knew that I was doing this, but I read books with characters like Tom, Huck, & Becky, Michael, Wendy, Peter, & Captain Hook, and Dorothy, Scarecrow, & the Wizard, and she was really good at encouraging me to read anyway. I really enjoyed reading as a child, and still do today, but somehow it was a little more fun back then when I thought I was really getting away with something.
On the night in question, Christmas Eve, I went to bed with no thoughts of reading by the light from the hallway. I was well familiar with what would happen if I tried to stay awake, and I had no intention of testing the Sandman’s abilities. I lay in bed trying to fall asleep with excited anticipation working against me, and at some point I drifted off into what was usually a peaceful slumber. This particular night, this Christmas Eve, I’m sure was no exception. While I was asleep, anyway.
At some point during the night, something woke me up. I don’t really know what it was, but I was most assuredly awake. I lay motionless for a few moments and let my eyes adjust to the darkness. The light in the hallway was now extinguished, as it was after I fell asleep on every other night, but there was still a little light coming from somewhere else in the house. Or maybe there was a night light in the hall or bathroom that was right across the hall from my bedroom. As I started to make out some of the familiar shapes of the desk, my books, and other items in my room, I could also see some moonlight coming in through the window which was on the wall opposite the door, but up near the head of my bed. I usually liked looking out the window on nights like this, and still do to this day.
I wanted to get up to see if Santa had come, but I didn’t know what time it was. I slowly turned my head to the left toward the door to see if anything was visible through the door and there he was. Right there at my bedroom door, looking in. I froze. I froze like I never had before, and I froze like I never have since. I was petrified, scared beyond comprehension. I remained motionless as motionless can be in that position. I eased my eyes to the almost closed position so that I was looking at him through the tiniest of slivers, but I could still see him. He was only a silhouette because the hallway light was off remember, but he was definitely there. I could see one eye looking through the small opening of the door. I stared at that one eye and it looked back at me for what seemed an eternity. I closed my eyes completely and tried to fall back to sleep, like that was really going to happen. I was afraid to open my eyes again, because I knew he would see them open and take off without leaving me anything.
I was afraid to move.
I was afraid to breathe.
I was afraid to even roll back to my previous comfortable spot in bed and so I stayed in my awkward frozen position, eyes clamped tightly shut, listening intently for any evidence that he either was still there, or had moved into the living room where the Christmas Tree was in front of the big bay window facing the street. I heard nothing though, probably because, as I discovered the next morning, he had softly closed my bedroom door. Eventually I must have fallen back to sleep again because when I awoke again, warm sunlight had replaced the soft blue moonlight coming in through my window. I was still scared though. I wasn’t really sure what I should do. I mean, what if he saw me awake and left?
When I finally had the courage to get out of bed, I went out to the living room and saw that he had not only been there, he had left some really cool things for me under the tree. I was still somewhat shaken by the sighting during the night, but I started to feel that everything was going to be ok. I was even pretty sure that I hadn’t blown it for next year.
I couldn’t wait to tell everyone. Mom and Dad were totally understanding, saying that I was really lucky he hadn’t seen me awake. My younger sisters were amazed. Man, I had done it, I actually saw Santa Claus. What a lucky little boy I was.
And then there were my friends. When I tried to tell them what I had seen, I was ridiculed. We were all at the house of the brothers Randy & Barry who lived on the corner two houses down from mine, climbing trees and such. Payson, and brothers Tommy & Terry were also there and apparently not a single one of these friends believed in the big guy for some reason. They spun wild tales about our parents being the source of all those presents under the tree on Christmas morning. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? The howled with laughter and mocked me and called me names like “big baby” until Mrs. Barton came to my rescue.
The Barton’s lived between my house and Randy & Barry’s house and Mrs. Barton was a large German woman with a very thick accent. Being the immature children that we all were, we were prone to make fun of anyone different than us, and she didn’t escape our teasing, although every bit of it was done out of earshot and without her knowledge. Well, looking back now, she probably did know about it come to think of it… we could be a loud lot most of the time. Her name was Friedel, but we all called her “Frito Barton.” Nice, huh?
Anyway, she came out her back door and started to scold my friends rather harshly. She had a daughter named Lori who was a few years younger than we were and she obviously didn’t want Lori hearing the nonsense that my friends were spewing out. My relationship with her wasn’t quite so harsh after that. I knew then that I was right and my friends were flawed in their thinking, and Mrs. Barton knew the truth as surely as I did. My cousin Kelly, while not as loud and boisterous as my friends, also chose not to believe my story, telling me instead that I was probably dreaming. I knew better though… and still do. No Santa Claus? Not a chance.
I saw him. I saw him with my own eyes.
I only saw him that one time, but that was enough. I tend to sleep through the nights now and Christmas is no different. I don’t know if I could even pull it off like I did back then. I’m not 100% sure that if I opened my eyes and saw him peering in on me again that I wouldn’t give myself away this time. The fact that I snore now would probably prevent me from giving a convincing performance of fake sleeping, but then again, maybe Santa doesn’t know that I snore. Wait a minute, of course he knows! “He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake”, remember? Besides that, he’s looked in on me for almost 50 years now, and I’m fairly confident that I was probably snoring on most of those nights. He has to know.
Well, I can be happy with seeing him once, I mean that’s more than most people ever get, isn’t it? That silhouette image of the large bearded one in the red suit is permanently etched into my memory. No one, and I mean NO ONE, will ever convince me that it was anything but the real deal, that who I saw that night peering in on me through my slightly open bedroom door was anyone else… but Santa Claus himself.