It’s nowhere near Christmas in July, but this picture hearkens back to years ago in a land far away: Decatur, Illinois. Where I group up and where I learned what’s possible if you believe.
I believed in Santa Claus until fifth grade, when I was rudely told in an advanced reading class in a side room to Mrs. Wilkinson’s class that there was no Santa Claus. As well as no Tooth Fairy and no Easter Bunny.
Needless to say, it was a fantastic day.
Some of my most vivid memories as a child are from walking down that dark wood staircase and turning to the left to see the Douglas Fir in all its’ splendor, bubble lights neon green and red in the dark early hours of the morning, and finding the gifts that stand out thirty years later. A red boom box just like my best friend’s purple one and the Lionel Richie Dancing on the Ceiling cassette to go with it. A gray 10 speed Huffy with green and pink accents that would be perfect to take to tennis lessons at the park in the heat of summer, with of course a bottle near the mid-metal shaft so I could keep hydrated even though I eschewed sunscreen most of the time. My red phone with a clear ring around the numeric pad that lit up with a red light for our Teen Line… even though my bedroom was teal and purple because that’s the way my mom designed it. By the time the red phone came into my life, those Christmas mornings weren’t a mystery anymore but still as special. My dad put everything he had into Christmas morning. He was a great Santa.
And even after I found out that Santa Claus was just a glorious figure that exuded extreme happiness to each little girl and boy, I still had a firm belief in all the good his presence and my dad’s presence had in the Christmas world. 5th grade spoilers be damned!
There were certain traditions, hallmarks of childhood that just couldn’t be shaken. My mom’s Nutty Noodly Clusters that I still make to this day, involving butterscotch and milk chocolate and dry roasted peanuts. The scent that came out of the antique ice chest that acted as an end-table when we pulled out the ornaments for the start of the season. Sitting beneath the lights in our “formal living” room with nothing but quiet and talk around the tree, accessorized with Pi Phi Dessert. On Christmas Eve, staring out the window in that room looking at the star and wondering if that’s how it really looked the night the Three Wise Men found Jesus. And performing the songs and poems out of the Norman Rockwell Christmas book.
These memories are so real, and I can go back to them and feel a certain peace and happiness that just can’t be created now, things are so different having my own family. My parents have since moved from that house. And we have all just grown older.
But I still believe. I believe in creating those moments in a new way. And I believe in celebrating those memories when I get together with my family, despite all the changes we’ve also seen over the years.
Because when we don’t believe… what do we have?