Christmas is a little bitter sweet for me. Of course I miss my mother throughout the year, but I really miss her at Christmas. She was instrumental in my long-held belief in Santa Claus.
In our house, Christmas began on December 1st with the advent calendar. In the early years, I couldn’t wait to open the little doors or windows to see what was revealed. In later years, Mum made a counted-cross stitch one in which a small gift was attached to a small red ring for each day. The small gifts ranged from a quarter to a pack of gum or candy cane. My anticipation rose a little more with each passing day.
Once Christmas Eve finally arrived, Mum solicited help from Gordie and Uncle Bill Grimes to perpetuate my belief. When Gordie was in place up in the attic, Mum came upstairs in the Dover house and woke me just enough, and then Gordie began ringing sleigh bells. I immediately insisted I had to go back to sleep or Santa would leave. And in the morning, as if the excitement of the hanging stocking was not enough, there were deer hoof prints and sleigh tracks in the snow.
As an adult who did much of the same things with my kids, I know how magical it was to watch my children’s reactions. I nearly cried when Emily was 18 months old and was still awake when we went to bed on Christmas Eve. I asked her what she was doing as she sat in her bed (against a wall with a window) with her head behind the window shade. “Waiting for Santa Mama.” Mum was gone then, but I felt so close to her in that moment as my child so outwardly expressed her belief.
For me, part of the magic was also in the number of “Christmases” we celebrated. Christmas morning was spent in Dover with Aunt Barbara and Uncle Bill, Gail Gordie (and later his family), and the Osmonds, who were Jewish, but loved to celebrate with us. From there we drove back to Kennebunk and had dinner and opened more presents at Uncle Dick and Aunt Jan’s, and after Aunt Jan passed, it was with Aunt Barbara and her family. The day was long and wonderful and chaotic and loud.
I took the magic and belief my mother so lovingly gave me and passed it along to my children. When Emily came to me in fourth grade and asked me if Santa was real, I had no problem answering her question. I told her, “A man in a red suit doesn’t shimmy down chimneys, but I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus, the spirit of giving and love, and in the magic that happens this time of year. So yes, I believe in Santa Claus.”