Our hearts would race the minute we heard the bells jingle.
Brigid and I were friends by circumstance. Sometimes we loved each other, and sometimes we hated each other, but looking back on it, my little sister was my first best friend. And while so many days were dotted with shouting and hair pulling and scratching (my arms have the scars to prove it), Christmas night was usually a bit more peaceful. Emphasis on a bit.
It was because we knew the Big Guy and his elves were watching.
My parents started this ruse early.
I remember Christmas in Minneapolis. The darkest nights that seemed to start in afternoon. Biting cold winds and thermometer mercury sliding in retrograde. There we were, about a mile away from one of the biggest lakes in the Twin Cities. Our family relations huddled in the family room with the ugly, orange shag carpet, the grown ups sipping on Manhattans and wine to stay warm and feel merry.
At this point Brigid and I were probably 3 and 5-years-old, respectively, and had a penchant for whining and other naughty behavior. And that's when we'd hear the elves knock.
From the sounds of it Santa's spies would bang on the windows and walls of the house, reminding us they were watching to see if we were behaving badly.
It didn't matter what we were doing. Whining about dinner, pinching each other, protesting bedtime - as soon as we heard that knocking, we would pause in mid-action and our heads would jerk around, eyes as wide as saucers. Santa's elves were watching and we were terrified they were going to submit our names to the Naughty List.
All negotiations ceased immediately and we would and agree to my parents' demands - a full-on submission into toy straightening, teeth brushing, and bedtime.
That's what happens when you are terrified by the threat of missing out on Christmas.
As we got older and wiser and more unruly, my parents, er, Santa upped the ante. The knocking subsided, and instead, Christmas night brought with it the terror of the jingle bells.
On Christmas, we got to wear special matching nightgowns. They were usually white flannel adorned with bows and lace. One year it was twee satin rosebuds and matching pink ribbons. I imagine we might have looked like the creepy twins in The Shining, but my mother thought we were adorable, and I guess that's all that matters.
Anyway, there we were, likely fully embroiled in bickering and bedtime procrastination, when my dad would silently slip out to chop wood or get more logs for the fireplace. He wore a big, bright yellow ski jacket held over from my parents' years in Edmonton, Alberta. The coat was probably designed for safety; it was nearly neon and the perfect outdoor apparel if you feared getting lost on a snowy Canadian mountain.
This jacket was the definition of conspicuous, and yet we were so enraptured in our own sisterly drama that we never saw him slip out the door.
Voices raised and protests delivered, my sister and I double teamed my mom begging to stay up a bit later on Christmas Eve. Amidst the relentless pleating and refusing, we'd hear the bells that would stop us mid-sentence. Bells that sounded exactly like the set that used to hang in my grandparents' garage in Youngstown.
What a coincidence.
The sleigh bells jingled and Santa would bellow a hearty "Ho! Ho! Ho!" and alarm flashed across my mother's face. Santa is in the neighborhood! I wonder whose house he's at, she'd exclaim.
I grew more excited and eager - I wanted to see the Big Guy in the flesh to witness a bit of his magic. Brigid, the more timid of the two of us, would beg to sleep in my room out of fear. She was afraid of this man who slid down the sooty chimney with a sack of toys and wanted to avoid an encounter at all costs, even if that meant shacking up with her big sister.
Mom didn't have to do much cajoling to get us to climb up the steps and pad our way to my bedroom where we would bundle up in my set of twin beds. Mom kissed us goodnight and Dad followed later, with cheeks still chilly from his chore outside.
To this day, we still talk about those nights and how the sound of the sleigh bells was a catalyst that turned me into a live wire. I loved Santa Claus, and his magic and the excitement of Christmas morning left an indelible mark on my heart.
30 years later, Santa has moved on to a new house in Atlanta. My niece and nephew are little tykes but Nora and Liam already know how wonderful Christmas is. Santa's elves knock on the walls and windows at their house, and the jingle bells ring at night before bedtime. And Nora in particular is just about as excited as her aunt was all those years ago.
And that makes my heart melt.
Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.