Tag Archives: Santa Claus

My Best Christmas

I saw an honest-to-goodness elf one Christmas morning hours before sunrise. It took place sometime during the mid-70’s, but no my elf sighting was not the result of partaking in that decade’s culture of “accepted” drug use. I was only around eleven years old, for goodness’ sake, when I had the extraordinary pleasure of spying one of Santa’s helpers wandering throughout my childhood home. I was cozily tucked away in bed, but I was fully alert. I remember I was anticipating the day’s expected abundance of presents, cherished time with family, and our traditional Christmas breakfast (but mostly the presents), so I’m sure I had all my faculties, and there were no sugar plum fairies dancing in my head. I know what I saw.

The elf just suddenly appeared before my eyes. He was your average, as seen on TV elf, but encountering one in person was beyond thrilling nevertheless. Admittedly, it was also a bit eerie having the North Pole employee, fully upright but at eyelevel, staring at me from only a few inches away from my face. Looking back, I wish I would have initiated a conversation with the portly, thirty-something year old (I’m guessing) donned in green velvet, but instead I laid there motionless and somewhat frightened. I was quite perplexed by the unique experience.

Santa’s helper vanished as quickly as he had appeared. A mere few seconds later I heard the distinct sound of one jingling bell coming from the nearby living room. My Christmas stocking was intentionally equipped with a single bell in hopes of catching St. Nick in the act. Santa’s capture would simply have to wait, at least another year, because I certainly wasn’t about to leave the safety of my bed to investigate the matter. I realize my elf sighting may seem unbelievable to some, but my older (and wiser) sister actually saw Santa Claus – in the same house – standing outside her bedroom door – during the month of June! So, how does my spying an elf on Christmas morning sound now? It really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, about me or the remarkable vision I had when I was a child, because regardless that was my best Christmas.

Many years later, in 1987 to be exact, I celebrated Christmas as a husband for the first time. My lovely wife and I had married in June, and after our weekend honeymoon we moved into a stucco, one bedroom home. The house did possess a certain charm even if it was about the only rental home in town we could afford. At least none of the floors inside the house were slanted: unlike the only other option we had at the time that also fell within the confines of our limited budget. It is not an exaggeration to say that when placing a marble next to one of the bedroom walls it would immediately roll across the floor to the opposite wall. We tried it, and that’s how we know! Anyway, our first Christmas immersed in wedded bliss brought with it new and joyous experiences such as finding that perfect Christmas tree together and giving others gifts as a couple.

Our collection of Christmas decorations, as young newlyweds just getting started, was pretty scarce. With time (and numerous after Christmas sales) our holiday d├ęcor would one day become an extensive collection of ornaments, seasonal knickknacks, and currently full-blown holiday displays, but not in 1987. That year the missus crafted a fireplace, out of a large, empty McDonald’s box that once contained frozen french fries, to liven up our place for the glorious holiday season. The box was painted a deep shade of red and featured a brick pattern meticulously outlined in black. The homemade fireplace was perfectly cheesy and served its purpose as the best place to hang our new Christmas stockings. I swear there were times I could actually feel a hint of warmth radiating from the manufactured flames. I’m sure wherever we landed, that first year as husband and wife, really did not matter since it’s absolutely true what they say…”Home is where the heart is.” That was my best Christmas.

Two Christmases later I found myself very blessed to be one third of a threesome. My lovely wife had given birth to our precious son, back in August, so we were no longer just a couple. Obviously, our lives were forever changed from then on especially at Christmastime. Our main focus was now on our little one and how we could make his Christmas extra special. Of course, at his age (just shy of 5 months old) I’m sure our son was less interested in what Santa brought him than we were. Many times he was captivated by the packaging more so than the costly contents inside. In fact, we eventually noticed if we gave our boy a box, a piece of string, and maybe some tape then he was a happy camper, and he could entertain himself for hours at a time if we’d let him.

It would take many more years before our son was truly interested in what was in Santa’s bag of goodies. Oh, the money my wife and I could’ve saved during his early years if only we had known. That’s alright though because Christmas isn’t about the money one spends. It’s about fondly remembering how my newborn child looked, dressed up as Santa (stocking cap included), and how fascinated he was with all of the sights and sounds of December 25th. Seeing the wonderment of Christmas through your child’s eyes and sharing the holiday season with your offspring, for the first time, is downright incredible. That was my best Christmas.

Christmas isn’t just for the little ones as my wife and I were reminded several years later. We were finishing our Christmas shopping when I spotted a 1998 Mitsubishi Eclipse, shimmering like a diamond, parked in a car dealership’s lot. I spontaneously veered into the lot, as if under some sort of spell, and pulled up alongside the shiny gem. The sports car’s exterior finish was a shade of grey, like no other, and the body style was identical to that of the lime-green colored Eclipse featured in the original Fast & Furious movie. Our teenage son had previously mentioned how awesome he thought that specific vehicle was and his desire to own one some day. Did we dare?

It was only by chance, and after receiving my wife’s hesitant approval, we were even considering purchasing a car for our son at that time. He was still 7 months shy from being able to obtain his driver’s license; however, randomly driving by that particular car dealership and spotting my one and only child’s dream car sure seemed like a sign to me. I think we attempted to rationalize our impending, expensive purchase by acknowledging our child was a responsible, straight-A student and all-around good kid. After the dreaded (but mandatory) negotiations, with the salesman and his curiously unseen boss, we bought the Fast & Furious replica. I drove the vehicle to my mother-in-law’s house where we stored the “sweet ride” in her garage until the “big day.”

Christmas morning, around 4:00am, I bundled up and set out on foot to retrieve my son’s Christmas present. I certainly could’ve used a pair of cross-country skis or at least some snowshoes, while traipsing through the fresh fallen snow, but somehow I managed the 2 mile trek wearing my old pair of snow boots. It was cold, and it was dark although the moon’s reflection against the white snow lit the frozen ground just enough for me to stay on course. The long-sleeved, thermal shirt I was wearing underneath my winter coat was soaked with sweat, from the challenging excursion, but I wasn’t about to complain. Here I was walking in a winter wonderland whilst beaming with excitement at the thought of my son receiving his special gift. What more could I have asked for on this joyous occasion?

I ultimately reached my destination, opened the garage door, and inserted the key in the Mitsubishi’s ignition. The powerful purr of the engine only added to my jubilation. I then drove the Fast & Furious replica to the nearest carwash, for a thorough cleaning, before racing home and parking the vehicle in our driveway. I placed a giant, green bow on top of the car’s hood and retreated from the winter elements to the warmth and comfort of my home. I was relieved to find my son still nestled in his bed since I feared the rumble of the engine might have wakened him. I closed all of the window shades in our living room so the lavish gift would have a better chance of not being detected before its time. I wrapped the car key in a small box, placed the decorated package underneath the Christmas tree, and then waited patiently (sort of) for the day’s festivities to begin.

A couple of anxious filled hours passed before the highly anticipated moment had finally arrived. Our son’s initial look of confusion, when discovering the key between two layers of wrapping tissue, was promptly replaced with a magnificent expression of epic proportions. He dashed over to the bay window and peered through the slits in the closed blinds. There was no dramatically dropping to the ground and fervently kicking his legs as was typically the case whenever our son would receive a present he deemed beyond awesome. He may not have given us a show this time, but our teenager did display an enormous grin that would put even Julia Robert’s smile to shame. That was my best Christmas.

I cannot reflect on this time of year without recalling the two times I gave my wife expensive (at least to us) jewelry for Christmas. I suppose I thought buying her a couple of elegant diamond rings along the way was the least I could do for her continually putting up with me. I totally surprised the missus, in 2003, when I presented her with the Past, Present & Future three-stone diamond ring. Buying her a diamond ring for Christmas that year was the furthest thing from my mind until one day I felt compelled to at least consider the possibility. I had seen the commercial promoting the fine piece of jewelry numerous times, but it wasn’t until after seeing the sentimental scene on the television screen for the umpteenth time that I truly appreciated the significance of the Past, Present & Future concept. I suddenly knew not buying my wife the ring was not an option. That was my best Christmas.

In 2010, I gave my wife a new wedding ring (not a total surprise) to replace the original one she had faithfully worn for over 23 years to that point. My lovely bride still appreciates her old wedding ring (she’s told me so) even though the differences between the two symbols of eternity are like night and day. I vividly remember how my wife’s left hand shook uncontrollably, for several minutes, immediately after I gently slid the sparkling, new ring onto her finger. She constantly gazed at the exquisite gift, with utter amazement, for the rest of the day. That was my best Christmas.

I realize my best Christmas has occurred numerous times throughout my life. The year I received my first “big boy” bicycle was my best Christmas. My best Christmas was also when Santa left me a green pogo stick one year and a pair of orange stilts the next. I’ll never forget waking up on December 25th to find an Atari gaming system, already hooked up to the television, for my siblings and I to share. That was my best Christmas. It appears as though my best Christmas is always about either giving or receiving gifts, and that would partially be true, but there’s certainly more to the story. It’s more about the privilege of witnessing a loved one’s astonishing appreciation for an unexpected gift, but most-importantly it’s about spending Christmas with your family. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if this Christmas is my best Christmas.


It’s Coming…Again!

As the taste of grilled hamburger and homemade ice cream disappeared from my mouth, and the brilliant glow of fireworks vanished from the sky, my mind automatically shifted into a different mode. On the evening of the 4th of July, for some reason unbeknownst to me, I began to focus on the upcoming Christmas season. Maybe it’s because I tend to realize, around Independence Day, that we are now closer to Christmas future than we are to Christmas past. That’s not to say I hadn’t given the glorious holiday some thought beforehand, or I wouldn’t have already purchased a loved one’s present last month while vacationing in Palm Springs. I sure hope the recipient fancies the gift since Palm Springs would be a long ways to travel (from Iowa) just to return the item.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one thinking about Christmas this early because the city of Glendale, our neighbor to the east, held their annual “Christmas in July” event this past weekend, and my lovely wife agreed to accompany me to the afternoon affair. We had not participated for the past several years, so I figured we (at least I) should do it up right. I scoured our walk-in closet for the day’s proper attire. I proudly put on my seasonal, although currently out of season, t-shirt featuring the famous flagpole scene from the timeless movie, A Christmas Story. The shirt’s caption reads “I Triple Dog-Dare You!” in reference to the young characters’ disagreement over whether or not a person’s tongue would stick to a frozen flagpole. SPOILER ALERT…it does.

I waited until we got into the car before boldly asking the missus if we could listen to Christmas music on the way to Glendale, and much to my surprise she granted me permission. You think you know someone after 28 years of marriage, but that was not the response I was expecting, so I had to go back inside the house to grab some Christmas music. I settled on one of my many homemade compact discs, Jimmy Mac’s Favorite Tunes Of The Season (Vol.4), and off we went. We made one quick stop, at our local Wal-Mart, to choose a Redbox movie rental for later that evening. I received several strange looks, from numerous people walking by, assumingly because I was wearing a seasonably unfashionable t-shirt out in public.

I was glad to be leaving Peoria, and I was very appreciative of my wife, for honoring my previous request, as the joyous sounds of Amy Grant, John Denver, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra resonated from the car’s speakers. I’m fully aware the missus was just “humoring me” at first, but by the time we arrived at our destination she was be-bopping to the holiday music as well. Even more shocking was her suggestion of having Stouffer’s Lasagna (our traditional Christmas Eve meal) later for dinner. My wife is certainly no Scrooge, but she doesn’t adore Christmas nearly as much as I do (no one does), so I was pleasantly surprised at the lengths she was going to on this special day. It appeared as though the entire day was going to be like Christmas in July.

Our first stop, after reaching Glendale’s Historic District, was to the city’s visitor’s center. I couldn’t help but smile after spying the giant, practically naked inflatable Santa just outside the building’s main entrance. Mr. Claus was relaxing in a hammock, attached to a couple of palm trees, and sipping on a foofoo drink complete with a tiny umbrella. We were given a map of the area and a mysterious grab-bag gift: a small notebook and pen decorated with snowflakes and a Christmas tree. My wife and I walked hand in hand, from shop to shop, gazing at the numerous lawn displays along the way. We sampled Christmas cookies and candy canes, and I bought a small scoop of Peppermint Candy ice cream at an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.

Most of the businesses, throughout the picturesque neighborhood, were playing Christmas music. Many of the owners, and shoppers alike, were adorned in holiday apparel. The people of Peoria might not have appreciated my cheery shirt, but in downtown Glendale I was fitting right in. Santa Claus was hanging out at one of the quaint shops. All of the visiting children were having their pictures taken with him, but the jolly old elf did take the time to wish the missus and I a Merry Christmas. He possibly may have been the real Santa since I’m somewhat of an expert at detecting the fake ones; however, with this particular Kris Kringle I just couldn’t be certain one way or the other.

During our festive outing we noticed two teenage boys having a snowball fight across the street. Obviously, the snow before us was manmade, but it was a nice gesture by the city, in keeping with the holiday spirit, nonetheless. The only thing missing was a winter nip in the air, but that was hardly possible with the day’s triple digit temperatures. We ended our time in Glendale’s Historic District with a free ride on Ollie the Trolley. I felt as though I was in an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as the trolley puttered around town. Of course, I knew we really weren’t heading to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to visit King Friday.

When we got home my wife was willing to listen to even more Christmas music (bless her heart), but I decided it was time to retire the sounds of the season for now. I had already broken my “no Christmas music before November 1st” rule, so I figured I should quit while I was ahead. My other strict holiday rule is “no Christmas music after December 25th.” My wife doesn’t care for that one. She’s not a “cold turkey” type of person like I am; she prefers to wean herself off the stuff, like an optimistic junkie, although she’s pretty successful. Anyway, we still had our Stouffer’s lasagna to eat and our Redbox movie to watch. Our Christmas in July came to a close that evening as we sipped on homemade eggnog while watching A Merry Friggin’ Christmas.

Many people complain that Christmas seems to come a little earlier each and every year, and I imagine most of them finish their tirades with a “Bah! Humbug!” However, apparently they’re correct because last year I wrote a blog (“It’s Coming!”) about Christmas, during early September, but this year I’m writing about the holiday, and it’s only July. It’s no secret I love everything about Christmas: the decorations, the lights, the presents (giving and receiving), the music, the movies, Santa Claus, and most-importantly celebrating the birth of Jesus. Try as you may to avoid, ignore, or deny the coming of Christmas, but it’s just no use. Brace yourselves people. It’s coming…again!

Halloween Past

At a very early age, while growing up in Iowa, I discovered I was almost as fond of Halloween as I was of Christmas. I don’t know which came first: Halloween or candy, but as a boy with an enormous sweet tooth I really had no choice but to fall in love with trick-or-treating. It was impossible for me to ignore the fact that I could accumulate more candy, roaming the streets of my small hometown on Beggars’ Night, than the amount Santa Claus could leave in my Christmas stocking every 25th day of December. My stocking could only hold so much, and many times an apple and an orange took up most of the important space I thought was strictly meant for candy. It didn’t matter how many sugary treats I acquired during Halloween because the goodies were always unwrapped and inhaled within a mere couple of weeks. My older sister was disciplined enough (unlike me) to ration her supply of candy in the same manner a stranded cowboy in the desert would conserve the water in his canteen; therefore, she had plenty of candy leftover well into the next year. To a sugar junkie such as myself that concept was completely foreign to me.

Dressing up for Halloween was always exciting, but dressing up at Christmastime usually meant putting on an itchy sweater and uncomfortable shoes to attend (or possibly star in) some sort of holiday pageant. Knowing beforehand what attire I’d actually be wearing on Beggars’ Night was nearly impossible. In general, my siblings and I each had a couple of costumes in mind, up until about an hour before we were to be unleashed into the dark of night, because we weren’t positive what type of weather we’d be facing until the final hour came. We never knew for sure whether we were going to have decent weather, rain, sleet, snow, or the bitter cold to contend with until the time for trick-or-treating had finally arrived. The famous line, “if you don’t like the weather, just give it a few minutes and it will change,” has never been more pertinent than during late Octobers in Iowa. Most Halloweens we were forced to wear our winter coats over our costumes, so I don’t know why we even bothered getting dressed up.

There were a few foreseeable things my siblings and I could expect every year as Beggars’ Night drew closer. The city would deem 6pm-8pm the official time for trick-or-treating, and my parents would be sticklers for honoring that guideline. We weren’t allowed to leave the confines of our home at 5:45pm, 5:55pm, or even 5:59pm, and it didn’t matter if the other neighborhood kids, dressed as ghosts and goblins, had already come to our house and received a teat from us. I’ve never been too keen on patience, so being all dolled up with no place to go (at least not yet) was just about enough to drive me insane. We couldn’t barrel out the front door until 6:00pm, so barrel out the front door at 6:00pm is what we did. There was so much candy to be had and so little time.

Another thing we could always count on was my mother going to the extreme when preparing Halloween goodie bags for all of the anticipated trick-or-treaters. She would begin her ritual, a day (or sometimes two) before Beggars’ Night, by baking dozens of cookies and popping several batches of popcorn. My mother would place one cookie in a sandwich bag and then she’d add a specific amount of popcorn to that bag with the help of a measuring cup. I would swear each bag was purposefully filled with precisely an equal number of popcorn kernels because my mother aimed for fairness. She apparently didn’t want to cheat anyone or possibly start any feuds amongst siblings who might be comparing their gifts with one another when they got home. My mother typically finished each goodie bag by adding a fun size candy bar, a roll of Smarties, a caramel square, and a sucker before ultimately cinching the sandwich bag with a piece of orange or black ribbon. I always hoped there would be plenty of her famous treat bags leftover and awaiting me at the end of the evening.

My favorite Halloween, while growing up in Iowa, was also my last year of trick-or-treating as a child. I knew well beforehand it was going to be my last year because I was in the sixth grade, and my parents were adamant that once a kid entered junior high then they were too old to be donning a costume and begging for candy. Again, they were sticklers, but this time it was about who should and who should not be trick-or-treating. The weather was perfect for my “last hurrah”: no heavy winter coat to weigh me down or clumsy snow boots to slow me down. I was no longer constrained by my parents to chaperone my younger brother and sister, although I still couldn’t leave the house until 6:00pm, and I had learned the previous year that using a pillowcase was the optimal way for collecting people’s offerings. The newfound method was much better than the old way of using either a cheap plastic bag or the traditional small orange pumpkin (with the stapled black handle that inevitably would come undone by night’s end), so I was all set to hit the streets one last time.

I treated my final experience as a trick-or-treater as though I was an aspiring Olympian. I sprinted from house to house, zigzagging back and forth across the street, while leaping over anything that got in my way including flowerbeds, hedges, and even a few fences. I was guilty of ignoring all trick-or-treating etiquette, and I blatantly disregarded the sidewalks altogether. The sturdy pillowcase got much heavier as the evening wore on, but I managed to somehow tough it out since I knew it was saving me from having to make time-consuming trips back home to unload. I surely mirrored Christopher Columbus as I explored many new territories on my quest for candy. Eventually I found myself over a mile away from home and realizing I had entered the Berg area (aka the rich part of town). I had heard the rumors that some Berg residents handed out full size candy bars on Beggars’ Night, and I was fortunate enough to find out it was true. I decided I should retreat from the rich neighborhood after receiving more than a couple of complaints, from potential donors, about the time now being well beyond 8:00pm.

I tossed the large pillowcase, filled with tasty donations, up and over my shoulder and headed home. I’m certain I resembled some sort of scary Santa Claus toting a bag full of toys, for all of the good girls and boys, but everything in my bag was all mine. My final year of trick-or-treating provided me with a stockpile of candy lasting longer than the usual couple of weeks…but not by much. I could hardly wait, as a sugar junkie needing a fix, for the real Santa to replenish my candy supply, and I was hoping this time the jolly old elf would forget about the apple and the orange when filling up my stocking.