Nothing endures like memories from Christmases past. Like a magician, at any time I can conjure up the sights, sounds and smells that permeated our house in the weeks before Christmas. All of these memories are held dearly in my heart, but it was only recently that I came to realize the true meaning of the “magic” of Christmas.
This “magic” that will stay with me forever began when I was only 4 years old and still an only child, as my two siblings had not yet been born. It was a couple of days before Christmas when my father woke me early in the morning. He seemed quite excited about something, and for my dad, that was unusual. He did not excite easily. Dad provided the necessities of life for his family and gave us the extras through his words and deeds. On this particularly cold winter’s morning, after waking me up he told me to go quickly into his bedroom and look out the window. I was still in my flannel pajamas and the floor was cold under my feet, so I hastened into his room to see what had made him so excited.
As I peered out the frosted window of that upstairs bedroom, I looked down into our corner yard and then out beyond the side street and across the neighbor’s yard. Crossing all the properties I saw what appeared to be two long yet narrow lines in the snow in what could have been a set of tracks. Newly fallen snow remained undisturbed around these “tracks,” with no evidence of human intervention anywhere. I didn’t quite know what to make of this scene. After all, I was only 4 years old. But I could sense, even in my childhood innocence, that whatever I was looking at outside was something quite spectacular.
Leaning in close my dad began to explain it to me. In a lively and excited voice he said: “Ardy, those lines must have been made by the runners of Santa’s sleigh! I think jolly old Santa himself must have been making a practice run during the night so he would know where to go on Christmas Eve.”
Then he continued: “You see where the runner tracks stop, Ardy? That’s where the reindeer took off from the ground to fly through the air with the sleigh back to the North Pole!”
Over the next couple of days I became even more excited as I waited impatiently for Christmas morning to arrive — especially now that I knew Santa Claus had made a practice run in my very own neighborhood, and would find my house for sure on Christmas Eve.
Nothing in the world is more exciting to a 4-year-old than Santa Claus and Christmas morning. So, as they say, I bought my dad’s story about Santa making a practice run on my street — hook, line and sinker!
Over the years during the Christmas season, my mind would often wander back to that time when I was 4 years old, looking out a frosty upstairs window, and seeing sleigh tracks in the snow several days before Christmas. I began to ask myself, “How did my dad achieve this wonder of wonders just for me?”
Many years later, when my dad was lying ill in a hospital bed with not many days left here on Earth, I finally got my answer. During one of my visits we had been talking about the many good things we had shared over the years as father and daughter. I knew now was the right time to ask him that one burning, unanswered question. So I boldly asked, “Dad, how did you make those Santa sleigh tracks for me when I was 4 years old?” I simply had to know.
My dad, a kind and gentle man, looked me in the eyes from his hospital bed, and quietly answered: “Not me! Must have been Santa Claus!”
And so, that gift of “magic” from this very special Christmas, given to me long ago as a wide-eyed 4-year-old, and the love of my father, will live in me forever.