I can’t be the only one that always picked Christmas as my favorite holiday as a child. As much as I loved the abundance of chocolatey goodness that was Halloween (but detested the inevitable trip to the dentist soon after), there was something about the combination of wintery weather, jingling bells and great home cooking that inspired an indelible sense of charm wholly unique to this time of year.
One family tradition that I always anticipated with great relish was the annual rooftop arrival of Santa Claus.
Early on Christmas morning my sister and I would awake to the sound of many feet stomping above our heads just as light was beginning to fill the sky. With euphoric glee we would spring out of bed and rush to the door, desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of our fabled hero. A familiar jangling sound greeted our ears as we pried the door open and dashed into the snow outside. As we craned our necks we usually only heard the sound of reindeer hooves or just briefly sighted the signature red cap bobbing out of view. Yet on one such morning we happened to get a long look at Ol’ Saint Nick himself. He was taller than the pictures I remembered seeing, with less of a belly and more of a beard, but no less jolly than any other incarnation of Santa. When he noticed that we had seen him he let out a bellowing “Ho ho ho!” before bolting past the high ridge in the roof, obscuring himself from our wide-eyed sight.
A loud shout suddenly rang forth from behind the chimney and shook loose a few wedges of snow. This was accompanied by a heavy thud as something large plummeted below, landing on the cushion of a conveniently placed snow bank. We heard an audible “Oof” sound as we raced around to the other side of the house, assuming to find an injured Santa that badly needed our help and who we hoped would be grateful enough to offer up a trip back to the North Pole in thanks. Instead we came upon only a man-sized imprint in the snow, and a series of hurried tracks leading back to the opposite way we had come. Our near obsessive level of curiosity now solidified, we did our best Sherlock Holmes impersonations and hunched over each indented footstep, eyes close to the ground, careful not to miss a single clue to this mystery. It didn’t occur to me until later that it seemed slightly odd for Santa to be wearing hiking boots.
The tracks led back around the house and in what proved to be a shocking development, right to our front door! My sister and I fought to be the first one in, shoving and pushing and nearly busting out the door’s pane of glass in our maddened haste to get back inside. “SANTA!?” we screamed as we tumbled indoors, our snow-drenched coats flinging white powder everywhere. “You just missed him,” my dad’s voice said from his seat at the kitchen table. He looked as if he had dressed hurriedly, his shirt was backwards and the bottom legs of his pants were dripping wet. Clearly he had been just as excited to see Santa as we were and unable to contain himself, had run out into the yard to catch a glimpse. His leg was propped up on an adjacent chair and he winced as we ran forward to question him. On the table in front of him lay an empty plate and glass, an incriminating crumb lodged in his beard the only remains of what was to be a Santa-specific snack. I reacted with horror and asked incredulously if he had done such a deed. He scoffed and said that Santa had insisted that he have some, pointing to the barren plate as proof. Any further investigations were put on indefinite hold the moment we saw the Christmas gifts, their intoxicating allure pushing aside any other considerations.
And that was the day I began to suspect that my dad just might be Santa Claus.