An early winter storm, blown by a stiff west wind, blankets our town with several inches of snow. . .
Since I’ve nowhere special to go today, I put the kettle on, pour a cup of tea, and settle into my favorite chair near the window with a Frostian intent “to watch the woods fill up with snow.”
There’s a certain hypnotic charm in every fall of snow. Each starry flake that floats by in December is a slowly-whirling magic carpet ready to whisk me away. When snowflakes fly, time is suspended, and the hourglass topples back on itself, tumbling end over end. Days and nights are erased, years and decades, too, until I am a child once more, safe and loved in a snow globe of memories that swirl feather-soft around me.
If you’d like to come with me today, pick a snowflake, hop on! I’m bound for 1961. Here – take my hand. I’d love to show you around. . .
Do you see the red brick colonial there in the sparkling snow? That’s my childhood home, snug on a hill beside the frozen pond where we skate each winter. It’s nearly Christmas, and there’s so much to share; won’t you come in?
The house smells wonderful! Momma’s been baking gingerbread men all afternoon. She gives each crispy gent a pair of raisin eyes and a coat of red sugar crystals with cinnamon candy buttons, all carefully piped in white sugar icing. (Would you like one? Help yourself! They’re lined up on this tray, here on the dining room buffet.)
I’m three-and-a-half right now, and while Momma’s not watching, I’m about to treat each of these fine, baked gentlemen equally. Since I can’t choose which cookie-man looks tastiest, I’m going to move right down the line and bite the left arm off each one on this tray – a simple solution to my dilemma that’s simply delicious! (After all her hard work, Momma won’t scold me. She’ll laugh and laugh instead and repeat this tale every year, just so we’ll always remember.)
Let’s run upstairs to my room! I want you to see the mysterious scrollwork patterns Jack Frost paints on my window. Just look at these delicate frost-ferns! I love to study them. I’ve never met Jack Frost, but if I wake early enough some morning, maybe I’ll spy him at work!
Every night before I’m tucked in, I stand here at my dormer window and gaze up through frost-illuminated panes to the towering oaks beyond; their snow-swept branches seem to lace up the sky. I wonder whether I might, just might, catch a glimpse of Santa as he sails – like the down of a thistle, with gifts for children everywhere – past a bright winter moon in a star-studded sky.
Although I am very small, I understand that Christmas is about the birth of the Christ Child. I love and believe in the Christmas Story, yet my imagination turns cartwheels over the wondrous mystery of Santa Claus.
Each year on Christmas Eve, while Daddy’s dressing me after my bath, there’s a joyous jangling of sleigh bells. A low-voiced “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!!!” rings up the stairwell. I squeal, then leap from Daddy’s arms and skedaddle downstairs.
There are presents under the tree, toys in our stockings! The metal screen of our fireplace has been left ajar! I race to the kitchen, where Momma’s absent-mindedly wiping a dish she’s just finished washing. I cannot for the life of me comprehend how she could possibly miss something as momentous as a visit from Santa.
“Momma?” I ask, one afternoon just before Christmas. (She’s making us a lunch of broiled peanut butter or cheese toast, which she cuts in triangular wedges and serves with bowls of piping hot soup.) I reach out small arms to encircle her legs, press a cheek to her apron. I peer up earnestly into her sweet face and ask, “Is Santa real?”
She looks down at me with kind, blue-grey eyes, smooths my baby-fine hair with a gentle hand. No matter how many times I inquire, her answer is perfect and always in these exact words: “Santa is the Spirit of Loving and Giving.”
When, at age five, I discover the truth about Santa, I’m disappointed, but not disillusioned. I think to myself: Santa is the Spirit of Loving and Giving. Therefore, he is better than real; he’s eternal.
Would you like to see our Christmas tree? I have two favorite ornaments. I adore this Bohemian glass ornament from my great-grandmother’s tree; its trailing tail reminds me of the Bethlehem Star.
This is the angel my grandfather made for us: she has wavy chenille hair and hand-cut metal wings that are silver on one side, gold on the other. Her delicate gown is made of starched ivory netting covered with stars. I love her.
Come sit with me here by the fireplace. I have a few minutes to play before bedtime. See my new dolly? Her name is Saucy Walker. In her blue dress and white pinafore, she’s exactly my size, 30 inches tall. I think her name is a mouthful, so I shorten it to “Saucer.” (Makes sense to me, if to no one else.) Saucer is big-as-life pretty, but the toys I love most are my stuffed pink bear, who sleeps with me each night and goes with me everywhere, my drawstring bag filled with bright-colored blocks, my wooden puzzles, and my ever-trusty tin of Crayolas.
Want to try my new Fisher Price cash register? I love spinning this little crank to hear the merry DING! of a painted coin as it drops into the cash box. It’s fun to count coins, but my true wealth is here in the warmth of our family circle. I’m only three and a half, but I’m learning to count my blessings: one, two, three. . .
The snow has all but ended, and my dream-time here in 1961 draws to a close. Before we wave good-bye, you might like to click here to hear a recording which served as the musical backdrop to the most fervent imaginings of my pre-Christmas childhood. In this vintage recording from 1942, Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians sing their fanciful version of “The Night Before Christmas.” I played this record over and over as a child, learning by heart every stanza of Clement C. Moore’s 1822 poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, in the process. I can still recite (or sing!) every word.
The opening chords of this wonderful old recording spin me right back to my childhood Christmases, no snowfall necessary. I am already there — back again in my house on the hill, caught up in the arms of my precious parents, nestled close to a sense of joy so real it brings tears to my eyes, remembering it. This joy, these bright memories are an undying gift from the Spirit of Loving and Giving – a gift that will remain with me, always and always. May this same Spirit embrace you, too, and abide with you forever.