It was a snowy Christmas Eve and the sun had just set on Nicholas Street, a small dead end road with just four middle class homes all lined up on the right hand side of the street. Some would call them row houses, almost identical in layout except for some subtle difference on the front exterior.
In the first house lived an elderly woman named Norma. Norma was a widow for the past ten years with two grown children, a son and daughter, both living out of town. The son’s name was Jason and he lived east near Washington D.C. Kelly was the younger daughter and she had moved south to Atlanta Georgia.
In the second home lived the Taylor’s, Tom and Carol. They were a young family with a boy Kevin, who was eight and Lisa and Monica, twin six year old girls. This was the first home the Taylors had owned after living in an apartment for ten years. Since they had only been there since June this was going to be a special Christmas for them.
The third house had a middle aged man named Calvin, single and never married. Calvin taught English at the local Catholic High School for the past fifteen years and also served as a Volunteer Firemen. Calvin had lived on this street for just two years and casually knew his neighbors on either side of him.
For Calvin, most of his holiday cheer came from participating in the various school events put on by St. Christopher’s High School where he taught. This year however, he was planning on changing that.
The fourth home had a couple in their mid-sixties, Ruth and Joseph. The couple had lived in this house for the past forty years and raised a family of four active boys. Their sons had grown and now had families of their own, but they still lived in the area.
This house was brightly decorated and Joseph always took pride in his outdoor decorations. Like every other year Joseph had strings of lights lining his roof, windows and bushes. Both the larger Christmas bulbs and the smaller twinkle lights, plus a few red and green flood lights on the sides of the house. There was also an illuminated Nativity scene out on the front lawn, complete with shepherds, sheep, the Magi and camels. All of this despite the fact there was so little traffic on this tiny street for others to even see it
Christmas was always a special time for Ruth and Joseph. They enjoyed the preparation and getting their family together. It meant so much to them that their boys felt the same and it was never an argument getting them all together on Christmas Eve.
Back to the first house and Christmas Eve was now a quiet night for Norma. With her children living out of town and no immediate family nearby, Norma would spend the evening eating a light supper and then watching some television. She would purposely avoid watching the Christmas programs if she could because they only added to her loneliness on this special night for families.
At this point Christmas day for Norma meant a morning phone call from her son and daughter, but otherwise it was like any other day. So much so, that Norma stopped putting up a Christmas tree after her husband passed away. Now only the worn plastic wreath hanging on the kitchen window signified it that was the holiday season.
At the Taylor home on the other hand there was a whirlwind of activity as the children ran around the house in a frenzy. This was the type of excitement that only the much anticipated arrival of Santa Claus could bring to young children. However, this year young Kevin was on the fence about the existence of Santa Claus. He was carefully watching his parent’s reaction and weighing their answers as he pressed them on how Santa was able to make his yearly journey?
Tom was actually more sensitive to this issue than Carol and gave his son very well thought out answers. Tom was hoping to keep the Christmas magic alive with his kids as long as he could and he knew Kevin wasn’t going to believe in Father Christmas much longer.
Knowing that the kids were probably too excited to have much of an appetite, Carol had made the family a simple dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches and Lipton soup. That didn’t exactly please Tom because his family had always had a big ham dinner on Christmas Eve. That had ended soon after his Mom and Dad had divorced so Tom kept his displeasure to himself to avoid an argument and ruin Christmas Eve.
Over at Calvin’s house, Christmas Eve dinner consisted of a simple, already cooked turkey meal from the local grocery store. Calvin sat quietly and ate while watching the local nightly news on television. For dessert he had been given a plate of Christmas cookies by his neighbor Ruth. Calvin was looking to return the favor a bit later on.
On the corner living room table there stood a four foot artificial Christmas tree with a few holiday cards neatly positioned around the bottom of the tree. On Christmas morning those cards would remain as the only items under the tree, but this year Calvin had bought himself a very Christmas special gift. In just a few hours he was planning on using it to make this a very special Christmas Eve.
Next door at Ruth and Joseph’s house it was a scene right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Their four son’s and their families were over for a big traditional Polish and Italian holiday dinner. Ruth was Polish and Joe Italian so their annual meal was always a combination of traditional meatless dishes, as was the custom with both nationalities.
In keeping with her heritage, Ruth would make pierogi and kapusta (a seasoned sauerkraut) and she also spent the day frying and baking seven different kinds of fish in keeping with the Italian tradition. There would be several vegetable side dishes and Joe would make spaghetti with garlic and olive oil like his Mom once did. The sons and their wives brought homemade desserts, soft drinks, bottles of wine and liquor for the festivities. This was the annual routine and keeping this tradition was important to all involved.
Now, it was almost eight o’clock and Norma had fallen asleep in her chair in the first house on the street. The magical years of Norma and her husband waiting anxiously with their children for Santa to come were long gone. Yet, as Norma napped, she did have a dream about an earlier Christmas when the kids were small and her husband alive. The dream was a bit hazy, as they often are and over much too quickly, but when she woke Norma had a faint smile on her face. It only lasted for a moment however and then it quickly turned to a feeling of melancholy.
Norma then sat and stared at the television screen, not even sure what she had on. Before she could figure it out there was a soft knock on the front door. It was a gentle knock, not intended to startle, just to make her aware there was someone at the door. Regardless, Norma was frightened by the knock and wondered who would be paying her a visit on Christmas Eve?
Norma turned on the front porch light, but was unable to see who was standing there because of the condensation on the small window in the door. As she started to wipe away the foggy moisture she heard the sounds of bells and then a hearty ho, ho, ho. What in heaven’s name is going on she thought?
Those recognizable sounds that most people associate with Santa Claus allowed Norma’s fear to subside a bit. As she cleared the window she then could see someone dressed as Santa standing in front of her door. Norma yelled out, “Who is it?” The figure responded “It’s Santa Claus of course!” Norma was still skeptical, but her fears were overcome by her curiosity and she opened the door.
“Hello Norma, Merry Christmas,” said Santa. “Merry Christmas,” responded Norma, “who are you?” “I told you, I’m Santa Claus, who else would you be expecting on Christmas Eve?” asked Santa. “No, seriously, who are you really?” asked Norma.
Santa Claus never answered her question, but instead reached into a long, red, velvet bag and pulled out a small kitten with big red bow around its neck. “Here Norma, this is a new friend to keep you company,” said Santa. As Norma took a hold of the small white ball of fur she was could only say “What, what” over and over. Then Santa again reached into the bag and pulled out a box wrapped in Christmas paper and placed it on the floor near Norma’s feet and said “You’ll be needing these as well.”
In the box were two feeding dishes, several cat toys and a very small pink collar. Santa then pulled out a bag of cat litter and said “I certainly can’t forget this” and he bellowed with a laugh that signified Santa had just cracked himself up. Norma could only stand there as if she were in a daze. The kitten started purring as Norma held it to her chest and without thinking she reached out and grabbed the arm of the man dressed in the Santa suit and again asked “Who in God’s name are you?” The figure in the red and white suit gently squeezed Norma’s arm and said “I’m Santa Claus Norma, enjoy the gift and have a merry Christmas.”
With that Santa Claus turned and walked down the sidewalk from Norma’s front door and broke into a slight jog out to the street. Norma watched as the figure headed down the road, but her view was quickly obscured by the tall hedge row which bordered her yard.
Norma then shut her front door with one hand and carefully carried the kitten into her living room with the other. Still in shock, Norma put the small kitten on the rug and softly said “How am I supposed to take care of you?” The young cat looked up at her with big dark eyes and let out a “Meow” as if to say “And how did I end up with you?”
At the Taylor’s house the children were now dressed in their pajamas, but much too excited to head off to bed. Kevin asked his Dad if he was going to read to them “Twas the Night Before Christmas”? This was something Tom had done each year ever since Kevin could remember. “Sure, Kevin, it’s Christmas Eve,” said Tom. “Of course I’m going to read “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
Tom’s parents had bought him the book “Twas the Night Before Christmas” when he was four and he still kept it in his bedroom closest all year. Earlier in the night he placed it beneath the Christmas tree as if it were part of the decorations, but now he picked it up and headed to the couch.
Tom told his kids to sit on either side of him as he began to read the familiar poem. Carol had her cell phone out and was taking a picture of this great family moment. Then there was a loud knock at the door. Tom kept reading as Carol walked to the front door to see who would be disrupting their Christmas Eve? Carol first looked out the front door window, just as Norma had done. Unlike Norma’s house, Carol’s window was clear and she could immediately see someone dressed as Santa Claus standing on her porch.
“Why it’s Santa Claus,” shrieked Carol, sounding like she was a little girl herself. The kids jumped from the couch and ran to the door as Tom sat there somewhat perturbed that his annual reading of “Night Before Christmas” was being interrupted.
Larger than life, Santa walked into the room with his red velvet bag over his shoulder and in a deep voice said “How are the Taylor’s tonight?” “We’re all good,” said Kevin, who was very intently sizing up the visitor. “Why are you here?” asked little Lisa. “Yea, we’re not even in bed yet,” said Monica.
“I wanted to stop by and give you these,” said Santa as he handed them each a large candy cane. “I’ll bring the rest of your presents when you’re asleep,” said Santa. “Make sure you also leave out carrots for my reindeer,” Santa added. “Where are your reindeer now?” asked Lisa. “They’re down the street,” replied Santa. “I tied them up to the big tree in front of Norma’s house, but now I have to go, so you need to get to bed. When you wake up you can see what I left you under the tree.” As Santa spoke to the kids Carol was taking a video of the whole scene on her phone, waving to Santa the whole time.
Then Santa Claus quickly walked out the front door, leaving behind three wide eyed children. Carol was still recording with her phone as Tom shut the door and then gave Carol a look which read “Who was that?” Kevin saw the look and realized that his parents had no idea that Santa Claus was paying them a visit. The sense that Santa could surprise even his parents gave Kevin enough hope to believe in him for another yet Christmas.
Carol had put down her phone and said to Tom, “You better finish your story so the kids can get to bed and Santa can come back later.” The three children quickly jumped up on the couch and told Tom to start all over from the beginning. They were all now energized by their own personal encounter with Santa Claus on this night before Christmas.
Meanwhile, next door at Ruth and Joseph’s house they had finished eating their dinner and the dishes had already been put in the dishwasher. Everyone was now relaxing either in the living room or in the small dining room as Christmas music was playing on the stereo.
Joseph was sitting on the living room floor next to the beautifully decorated Christmas tree with his Grandchild gathered all around. He was explaining to them each figure in the small Nativity scene that was under the tree. Joseph would pick up one of the beautifully detailed figure, identify their role in the Nativity story and then move on to the next one.
Ruth meanwhile was sitting at the dining room table with her daughter-in-laws discussing Christmas cookie recipes. Two of the sons were in the kitchen standing next to the informal bar setup on the counter, talking football over a glass of wine. The other two sons were on the couch in the living room listening to their Dad hold court with the kids under the tree.
This was the scene that had more or less played out each Christmas Eve with this close family. It was almost as if they were following the same script year after year without any deviation. That is until this year there was a knock on the door. Joseph looked up at his oldest son on the couch when he heard the knock and said, “Who the heck could that be?” “Got me?” said his son as he got up to answer the door.
This time there was no peeking out the door window. Joseph’s oldest son was a former football player, standing over six foot one and he was not overly concerned about who the visitor might be. Yet, when he opened the door and saw someone dressed as Santa Claus his voice rose as he said, “Well what do you know, it’s Santa Claus!”
The kids all jumped up and yelled, “Santa, Santa!” Joseph slowly got up and sized up the man in the Santa suit and said “Well, hello Santa Claus, what are doing here so early?” “Just wanted to stop by to see if all the children were getting ready for bed,” said Santa. “They have to go home first Santa,” laughed Joseph. Santa didn’t reply to Joseph but instead took out a handful of candy canes to hand to the children.
The parents then took turns taking photos of their individual children with Santa and it was a great family scene, one everyone would keep in their memories. Then Santa posed for a photo with Ruth and Joseph with all the grand-kids. That one made Ruth in particular very happy.
All of this took place in about ten minutes and Santa knew it was time to leave while the excitement level was still high. Santa said his quick good-byes and turned to walk out the door, but just before he did, he reached into his red bag and pulled out a slender package wrapped in shiny silver paper. “This is for you and Joseph,” Santa said to Ruth and he then turned and walked out the door.
The kids waved to Santa as he walked down the front walk and Ruth carefully opened the gift she was just handed. It was a professionally shot, night time photo of their house with all of the lights and decorations brightly lit. Joseph took one look and a big smile came across his face because he took great pride in his yearly decorations. Now, he had a great photo that captured the fruits of his annual duties perfectly.
Joseph then carefully took Ruth by the arm and walked her into the kitchen. “Do you have any idea who that just was?” asked Joseph. “No, don’t you?” Ruth answered. Joseph shook his head no and they both walked back into the living room, filled with grandchildren still all abuzz over Santa’s visit.
Joseph’s oldest son then looked over at his parents standing in the entrance to the room and he could see that they both had tears in their eyes. This had become a very special Christmas Eve and one they would long remember, especially because of a surprise visit from the man in the red suit.
It was now nine o’clock and a peek into Calvin’s house found him asleep on his recliner. The empty plate and cup left on the TV stand next to the recliner meant Calvin had dozed off right after dinner. Then as his old chime clock on the wall struck nine, Calvin woke up with a jolt. His facial expression showed that he feared he had already missed something.
Calvin quickly rose from his chair and went straight to his bedroom closest. He pulled out a large bag with a big red and white box in it. Calvin lifted off the top and inside was a beautiful red velvet Santa Claus suit. The suit looked very professional in both weight and fabric.
Calvin’s plan this year was to surprise his neighbors by dressing as Santa and paying them each a visit. This was something he was looking forward to for over a month after buying the beautiful suit in a local costume store. Yet, as Calvin opened the box to put on the suit he found a folded paper note lying on top.
Calvin opened the note and it read, “Calvin, what a beautiful suit. I know you wanted to wear it tonight, but I saw that you had fallen asleep. So I took it upon myself to pay each of your neighbors a visit on your behalf. It will be our little secret. Merry Christmas.”
Calvin stood there, almost numb, as he held the perfectly hand written note. A wave of excitement completely washed over him as read the signature at the bottom of the note which simply read: Santa Claus.