The neighborhood was blanketed in snow, a winter wonderland. The snowman in the yard was wearing my mittens and my nine foot long scarf. He was a foot taller than me. The record player in our house played endless renditions of Frosty the Snowman, as well as selections by the Ray Conniff Singers. Our neighborhood was a new development, so the tallest trees on the block were in the front rooms of the houses.
Our Christmas tree that year was twelve feet tall -- though, in my mind's eye it looks more like thirty. Actually, we had twelve foot tall trees every year -- we weren't rich, we just had high ceilings (only once did we break with tradition and buy a beautiful eight foot tree; it turned out it was so pretty because it had been spray painted). It was 1977, and I was five years old, and the world was a big, wonderful, magical place.
My world at that time did not extend much beyond my own driveway, though I had spent most of the previous summer in a galaxy far, far away. But now Christmas had come, and my mind was filled with images of flying reindeer and talking snowmen, and a jolly fat elf, with an amazingly accommodating sack of toys. I knew the rules -- no crying, no pouting. I knew that Santa Claus would only come when I was asleep.
How could any sane person expect a five year old boy to sleep, on the eve of the greatest day the world had ever known? I was finally old enough to appreciate the significance of what was about to happen at my house.
I never doubted. But I did wonder.
How did Santa Claus get to all of those homes in one night? And how would he get all of those big toys down our very small chimney? What made reindeer fly and snowmen sing? There was really only one answer: magic. And that was good enough for me. I was a true believer.
On Christmas Eve, after reading the Christmas Story, and A Visit from St. Nicholas, and after making sure that the stockings were hung (by the chimney with care, naturally), I lay in my room (the one with the green shag carpeting -- which I loved -- remember, it was 1977) and looked out my window. I remember, vividly, how bright the stars and the snow were, and how they lit up the winter night. My heart pounded in my ears, and I felt kind of twitchy. I strained to listen for sleigh bells, or at least some prancing and pawing of little hooves on the roof. I wondered if Santa really knew whether or not I was asleep. What if I just closed my eyes for a second...
My next clear memory is coming down the stairs in to the living room, lit brightly with sunlight, and filled with gifts -- which, to my five year old eyes, seemed to cover every square inch of the room. There was a toy piano, and a Snoopy Stunt Motorcycle set.
There were Star Wars toys; the foundation of a massive, and ultimately doomed collection (anyone else golf the heads off of Luke, Han and the rest?).
And, in the middle of everything, there was a horse -- a Wonder Horse. It was a magnificent, chestnut colored steed, with a flowing white mane and tail, ready to ride as far as his springs and my imagination would take us (as long as I kept the gas tank full, which I imagined was on the rear end of my horse. I was a suburban kid).
Other Christmases of my life tend to blur into one another, but the memory of that Christmas morning is burned into my memory forever. I could not believe my eyes! He had come! Sometime during the night, while I slept, Santa Claus had come down our chimney, and dumped a sleighfull of toys on to our living room floor. What other explanation was there? The house was bare, and suddenly it overflowed with Yuletide abundance. It was magic, it had to be!
The next year, when I was six, the magic went away. An older relative explained the "truth" to me. It's funny how monumental days like that stick out in your memory -- it was the same day that I learned to blow bubbles with bubble gum. But some dreams die hard, and I was a reluctant realist. As I grew older, and supposedly wiser to the ways of the world, it was not easy to let go. Then along came a miracle.
Wonder in the eyes of a child seems like an old cliche -- until you have kids, that is. Everything is new to them, everything is wonderful. Children greet the world with wide eyed amazement. So, when it came time to introduce my kids to the joys of Christmas, I was pleased to find that, even in today's increasingly cynical world, kids are still kids. They know that reindeer can fly. They know that the North Pole can not only sustain life, but an entire colony of elves, busily engaged in making toys for all the good children of the world. They do not doubt. Doubts come later, when they are older, and "wiser." I found what I had lost all those Christmases ago -- joy in simple faith.
I know many things now that I didn't know as a five year old boy. I know that Christmas is about more than Santa Claus and snowmen. I know that a greater happiness comes from giving than receiving. Christmas is much more satisfying as a parent than it ever was as a child. And I know that the most important event that we celebrate at Christmas is the birth of a child, who would be reborn thirty three years later -- the greatest gift of all.
I know that a story about one five year old boy's Christmas in 1977, is not very important, but it is a beautifully sweet memory for me. Life was simple, and faith was easy.
I wish every child at least one Christmas just like it.