I was in 3rd grade, maybe? Too old to believe in Santa. I knew Mom bought my gifts, but I still believed Santa existed somewhere in my mind because I wanted to believe. My mom helped that by always leaving the tags off a couple of gifts that were bigger things that we really couldn't afford. She knew I'd recognize her writing, and I called her out on the ones she labeled from Santa, but somehow, after all the gifts were done, there were always a couple of extra things with no labels that mysteriously had different wrapping paper and hadn't shown up until Christmas Eve.
I think this was a holdover from her German family. Mom told us that in her family, they would go to Christmas Eve mass, but Oma would always have a reason to leave early. When they got home, Oma would have set up the tree and laid out all the presents. So everything showed up when the kids got home from Christmas Eve church. Before that, there was no tree, no real presents - but there was always the advent calendar.
We kept up the advent calendar tradition, but we decorated a tree and laid out some presents. Mom still held onto the tradition of not putting most of them out until Christmas Eve. By third grade, though, I'd found Mom's hiding places and as most of you who know me now would expect, I'd called her out on her lies. So she started putting the presents out earlier. But every Christmas morning, there were always a couple that hadn't been there the night before.
So on one night, this night that I remember so vividly, it wasn't crazy for me to think there might be another explanation. My parents sent me to bed, and it was one of those magical Christmas Eves that had snow on the ground. I thought I heard something on the roof, so I looked out my window. I swore I saw snow falling from the roof. I can still remember everything about that moment...the glow of the colored christmas lights, the smell of the snow, the cold from the window.
And then I heard sleigh bells. I swear I heard them. I remember them. I ran out to tell my parents and only found my mom in the living room. She told me if I didn't go to bed Santa wouldn't come and if he was really here I must hurry and go to sleep. I'm not sure I fell asleep quickly, but I don't remember anything else anymore until the next day. I went out to check the roof. There was a disturbance in the snow above my window, clear evidence of Santa. There were also marks and deer poop in the yard.
Of course I know now that my dad did that. He raked the snow over my window and he left dog poop in the areas where the sleigh had landed in the yard. My dad, and my mom guarding me, helped me believe for just a little longer - because they knew I wasn't ready to think it wasn't real.
I know it wasn't really Santa up there. I know that what I really believe in is that magic of the world and love for all of our fellow beings. I hold tight to that one.
But when I think about that memory, I feel the cold of the glass window on my cheek, and I hear those bells - I never found those bells. And mom never owned up to that one.
The mind can play wondrous tricks on a body, but maybe, just maybe, there's still a little bit of magic left in this world.