The year was 1975 and I was lying awake in bed at my grandparent’s house while everyone else slept. Slumber was not in my cards, it was Christmas Eve.
I don’t remember how long I had laid there before I heard the noise on the rooftop but I do know my mind came to an instantaneous conclusion about the cause of that noise. Santa’s sleigh had landed. My heart leaped in my chest and excitement got the best of me. I ran to my mom’s room, woke her up and half-whispered, half-yelled, “Mom, he’s here! Santa’s here! I heard him!” She told me I better get back into bed and go to sleep or he might not bring in the presents. My four-year-old self could not understand why she wasn’t excited. Santa had landed! There were reindeer on the house at this very moment!
Of course, the 43-year-old me now completely understands the lack of excitement a parent might have at being awoken at 2:00 a.m. by a child who heard the roof creak and will never get back to sleep.
That Christmas Eve moment is one of the most vivid memories I have from my childhood. I shared my story with everyone — “It was Santa! On our roof!”— until I found out in the sixth grade that Santa was my mom and dad. After that I kept it locked in my heart, a piece of my childhood I would treasure forever.
That memory is why I do it.
I started creating the myth of Santa when my son was a year old. That first year was all about the stockings and Santa gifts. Seeing as he appreciated the torn paper more than the presents, I now realize I was a bit over-the-top with my Santa-ness. But I couldn’t help myself, I wanted him to have the magic. I did it the next year as well, wrapping his presents with care. The same presents I would have to unwrap for him. The third year I added in magic reindeer food and reindeer footprints in the snow.
It was the fourth year he finally understood. Too excited to sleep, he chattered on and on. Do you think Santa will come? Will he bring me presents? Do you think I was nice this year? Finally he fell asleep, a little too late for this tired mama. There is nothing magical about sleep deprived parents trying to stay awake to stuff stockings well past the stroke of midnight because their children are too excited to sleep.
My husband and I filled the stockings and stacked the gifts. We even left a torn piece of red velvet cloth on the fireplace — Santa’s coat must have gotten snagged when he came down our chimney. We went to bed knowing we’d be up again in a few hours.
At 5:00 a.m. I heard him. The pitter-patter of bare feet on the floor as he made his way downstairs. The quiet pitter-patter turned into a full-fledged run as he raced back up the stairs to our room.
“Mom! Mom! Santa came! He left presents! Santa was here! In our house! Get up! You need to come down and see!”
The best present I received that year didn’t come in a box with a bow. It was my son telling me I had to “come down and see.”
The myth had stopped and the magic had finally begun.
Stay in touch
Subscribe to Today's Parent's daily newsletter for our best parenting news, tips, essays and recipes.