As a kid, I was nothing if not imaginative. I believed in all sorts of mystical, magical things because I wanted to, and if I’d had the ability to live among faeries and elves, I would have.
So, it was no stretch for me, on Christmas Eve, to hear Santa coming.
I remember standing at the window in our living room, the one right next to the door and the stairway leading up to our second-floor bedrooms. Gauzy curtains hung before the glass, and I pushed them aside to gaze up into the night sky. It was past bedtime, but my two younger sisters and I were pushing it. We were too excited to sleep.
They were standing with me, the younger barely able to see over the window sill. Snow drifts were piled along the street and mounded along the walk to the front door. Icicles hung from the roof, their tips sparkling in the streetlights. Those things we barely noticed. Our eyes were heavenward, and I’d like to say we were praying, but we weren’t. We were tempting fate by hoping for a glimpse–oh please, just a tiny little peek–at reindeer and a sleigh and that wonderful, white-bearded man named Santa.
“If you’re up when he comes, he’ll leave and you won’t get any presents,” my mother warned. My poor mother, who had worked all day and now had presents to wrap and get under the tree, and stockings to fill, and three little kids who wouldn’t leave the room.
Even knowing we were jeopardizing our Christmas-morning surprises, we held our ground, sure that the vision would appear, that we would find ourselves suddenly able to peer into Santa’s magical world of faerie.
And then I heard the bells. Sleigh bells, without a doubt. I heard them, faint, as if from a distance–but coming closer. It was Santa and his reindeer, and we were up, and suddenly the possibility of seeing him was almost scary, and there were all those presents at risk…
“I hear bells!” I shrieked, my wide-eyes sisters darting glances everywhere and then nodding in beguiled agreement. Three little girls abandoned the window in a flash, dashed up the stairs, and threw themselves into bed, feigning sleep and hoping all-wise Santa wouldn’t notice.
Now, today, it’s Christmas Eve again. I’ll be up late as before, singing for the Midnight Mass that has somehow, over the years, gotten moved forward to 10 o’clock. I’ll hear the sounds of the piano, and my husband’s guitar, and all those choir voices, including my own, that have practiced so hard and so long. I’ll bow my head as the words of consecration are sung, and I’ll welcome Jesus, not just into the Bethlehem stable, but into my heart.
“Merry Christmas!” cries will ring in the church when the Mass is over. We will wend our way home through drifts and falling snow, loving our Christmas Eve togethter.
And I’ll hear bells. I’m still the little girl who stood at the window, and I still believe in the magic of Christmas.