by Katie Butler Johnson
How did December get here so quickly?
Seems just yesterday the leaves were beginning to change color. Now most have blown away. Winter holidays are approaching fast. They always prompt a flurry of activity and memories of past holidays. For me, those memories are of Christmases.
One of my earliest memories is of Christmas Eve 1946. I’m in the kitchen with Mom as she finishes putting up the dinner dishes. She has WOR tuned on the radio and the newscaster reports a Santa sighting. “His sleigh was just seen crossing the sky above the Hudson River.” In my mind, I see that sleigh fly across a star-filled sky. I remember my 6yr old self searching the sky for signs of his sleigh later that night as I looked out my bedroom window and willed myself to sleep so Santa could arrive.
That Christmas was special for our family. WWII was over. Dad was finally home and not deployed somewhere overseas as was the case four of my six years on earth. I would no longer have an absent Daddy. He began what became a Christmas Eve tradition that night. Just before our bedtime, he gathered us together and gave us a dramatic reading from the abridged edition of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.”
Dad overdid the gifting to us that year. He got both my brother and me new bikes plus personal Emerson radios from “Santa.” Together with all the other things Mom had squirreled away to be delivered by and credited to “Santa”- we were thoroughly spoiled.
To top it all, I got to play an angel - complete with wings and a tinsel halo - in St. Anastasia’s Children’s Pageant. That was my “Norman Rockwell“ Christmas. Dad was home for good; Santa was over-the-top generous; All seemed perfect in my little world.
There’s another Christmas several years later that I’ll never forget. My younger sister, Norah, was born in 1944 with congenital dislocated hips and endured years of surgeries and long hospitalizations in rehab to help her walk. She was about 4 years old and in a cast from her waist to her foot that year. The cast held her feet about 2 ft. apart. She would “walk” that cast everywhere by swinging first one side forward and stepping and then angling and swinging the other foot forward.
At about 6pm on that Christmas Eve, we could hear the distinct sound of sleigh bells outside. Then the doorbell rang. It was SANTA with his sack slung over his shoulder. He asked for Norah and she waddled her cast to the door. We watched as he spoke gently to her and she looked up wide-eyed at him.
Santa told her he’d be back later that night, but wanted to give her a special in-person visit. He took down his sack, opened it and took out a wrapped package with her name on it. He gave it to her. She was numb with awe. He said he had to go as the sleigh was parked and his reindeers were waiting. He needed to get going again to keep to his schedule and visit everyone on his list.
My parents always claimed they hadn’t arranged for either that visit or that gift. Who did remains a mystery. Who was that “Santa” that made personal visits to “special” children on Christmas Eve? St. Nicholas?? A Christmas Angel???
When I was a young mom, I strived to create wonderful memories of Christmastime for my kids. Sometimes I would get too exhausted with the shopping and cooking and doing and going that I didn’t have the energy to see past the chores to the core meaning of Christmas. I’d get caught up in the busy whirl of the season, but the essential part of it isn’t a perfect setting or the perfect meal or a gorgeous tree. The essential part of Christmas is remembering the perfect gift we were given by Our Father on that very first Christmas - the Christ Child!