That one magical Christmas Eve when I was 5…


My little brother getting a present from Santa. In our grandparents’ living room.

I grew up in Hawaii, though my mom and dad were from Oregon and my second dad from California, and every year when we were young my parents would pack us up and fly away home for a good month, taking us out of school early in December for the very important Christmas Trip To The Mainland.

On these trips we’d fly on airplanes to go to faraway busy places (a privilege not known by most of our island friends), we’d hope to see snow and then run inside for warmth after realizing that wearing every single short sleeved cotton thing we owned still didn’t make us warm enough. We’d bask in our grandparents’ love, bask in the attention of our aunts and uncles and the antics of our cousins, all so different from us wild jungle kids but all so connected at the heart.

The Christmas Eve when I was 5 was the big one. I was maybe 6 months older than my son is now. Five-and-a-half. On this Christmas we saw Santa in the sky, and then later in the evening, after a flurry of footsteps on the roof and “what is that come quick could it be” from the adults, we saw Santa for real, in the family room, covered in ashes and soot. On this Christmas we knew for sure the magic of love, family, imagination, God and Santa all in one, and it formed this celebration for me forever.

The Santa visit was after many days of grown up pinochle games, little kid Candy Land games, singing at the piano, cousin cardboard races down the stairs, inhaling my grandmother’s canned peaches and applesauce and “eggspotatosbacon” for breakfast, listening to my aunt Diane sing us Silent Night at bedtime, snuggling with my handsome, young uncle on the couch during football, twisting and turning to get a seat at the grown up table every night at dinner instead of the kid table in the kitchen.

This Santa visit was after a Christmas Eve dinner of clam chowder for the adults and vegetable beef stew just for me, because after years of refusing, flat out refusing – even if it meant no Christmas cookies later if I didn’t eat warm clammy milk for dinner – my grandma started making a vegetable beef stew as a secondary dinner option on Christmas Eve.

This Santa visit was after my mom and dad and aunts and uncles entertained all seven or eight or one hundred cousins with a fully costumed and rehearsed play retelling the night of Jesus’ birth (complete with my mother, eight months pregnant with my youngest brother, acting the part of Mary, and my long-haired, long-bearded dad acting the part of Joseph.)

At some point after dinner and grown up cocktails and kids going insane with the anticipation of the night, my uncle, I think, said hey kids, come out here into the front yard. And we did, and we looked up at the sky, and we saw a light moving across the horizon.

“Do you think that might be Santa?” he asked.

“We do, we do, and we do!!!!” we shouted. Could it be? Could we actually see Santa right there in the night sky?

A little bit later there was the start of a commotion. Steps on the roof. Distinctly, steps. Hard, quick, steps.

“Kids, do you hear that?”

We did.

“What could it be?”

Um. Could it? Could it?

It was suggested that we go check, and we did, running to the basement fireplace, and yes. It was. Magic come to life. Santa, there in our house.

He came upstairs, that Santa. Actually a friend of the family coming to us kids in a Santa costume. But he came with joy and surprise and love, and he gave us each a present, and we all whooped and teeheed and thought we were the luckiest kids in the world with the best lives and the best families and the best grandparents.

And we knew that Christmas was magic.

Not because anyone told us.

But because we saw with our own eyes. And because we felt the warmth in our own hearts.


The nativity play.



Oh goodness I loved that purple shag fuzz pencil holder. Who made me that? I had it until high school graduation.

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4 Responses to “That one magical Christmas Eve when I was 5…”

  • Comment from Nancy

    Am now telling the story to my granddaughter, Savannah. BTW I got to be the angel that year!

    • Comment from Koa

      Better an angel than a knocked up Mary. ;-) I think George and I have the fondest memories of that particular one. He taught me little bunny foo foo that year, for sure.

  • Comment from Noeleen

    That must have been so SO magic. I just love it. Bless that family member! That’s just so gorgeous :)

    And I love old photos like that, always cause me to reminisce.

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