Growing up in the snowy Midwest, I couldn’t wait for Christmastime and our annual trip downtown where Santa magically appeared in a large department store window, beckoning the passersby on the street to stop and visit a while.

The closer it got to the Big Day and the brighter the world sparkled with fresh-fallen snow, the more excited I got. Soon Mom would take my sister, Jackie, and me to see Santa Claus. We could hardly wait.

Santa was larger-than-life, a mechanical version of himself, sitting barefoot in his big, comfy chair surrounded by lively, hard-working elves getting ready for the big night.

One mischievous elf busied himself by tickling Santa’s big toe with a feather. Santa roared with laughter as his body moved to and fro, his booming voice spilling out over the loudspeaker and onto the street. I felt like Alice in Wonderland gazing through the looking glass.

Santa wore red velvet trousers, thick black suspenders, and a white thermal undershirt with long sleeves. No jacket. No boots. No hat. No gloves. I had convinced myself that this is what the real Santa looked like in his workshop at the North Pole. Dressed just like that. Looking just like that. Relaxing before his big trip around the world.

When Christmas Eve finally arrived, our annual big family gathering took place in Aunt Mary and Uncle Pete’s basement, where the real Santa Claus would make a visit before he took off on his journey. Cookie trays were piled high with gingerbread men and sugar cookies cut out in the shapes of Christmas trees, wreaths, bells, stars and even Santa himself.

Mom had bought me a blue taffeta dress that swished and swayed when I walked. A satin ribbon wrapped around my waist twirled into a big bow in the back. I felt very special on this very special night. I was ready to meet Santa.

Encircling the top of the basement, large rectangular windows hugged the ceiling. Outside, the fresh-fallen snow glistened boldly beneath the Bethlehem-bright stars. We all would glance up at the windows incessantly waiting for the white snowflakes on the ground to turn red, reflecting the color of Santa’s red suit, as he passed by each windowpane. It would be only a matter of minutes now before Santa would descend the stairs to the basement, carrying a large bundle of toys on his back.

And then there he was! Santa Claus! Waving to us from the windows! His cheeks candy-cane red from the chilly weather. My heart thumped with excitement! It wasn’t long before Santa’s big black boots could be seen coming down the steps, followed by his plush red suit, and finally… his white beard and red hat surrounding his jolly face. Santa had arrived! At last!

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” his booming voice echoed around the room. “I have a present for every girl and boy that has been good all year. And I’m sure everyone has minded their mom and dad.” Santa handed every child a gift from his sack.

We placed some sugar cookies and gingerbread men on a plate and handed them to Santa. We gave him a glass of milk, too. Santa ate every cookie and drank every drop of milk. Then he thanked everyone and headed back up the stairs. His reindeer were waiting for him in the snow. He was on his way to fill up his sack again. He had a very busy night ahead of him.

I went to bed that night with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, as I waited breathlessly for the coming of Christmas morning and the sound of eight tiny reindeer’s hoofs prancing on the roof.

(Lola Di Giulio De Maci is a Fontana resident.)

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