The December of the year my son was three years old going on four, I had spent the days leading up to Christmas preparing him for the event.
We made a trip into town to buy Christmas lights to decorate our one story house, which I had been renting at the time. Because of its painted, dark brown shingles, my son had dubbed it The Chocolate House. More like a cottage, it was the perfect place to spark a child's imagination during the darkest months of the year.
Snow had not arrived yet, but the nights were getting colder. When we plugged in the blue lights that we had put up on the front of the house, my son asked if we could sleep outside. I was reluctant at first, but before I knew it, we were setting up the tent inside the cerulean glow that reached across the yard. I went back in the house and got the sleeping bags, pillows and extra blankets.
After a snack of brownies and milk, we washed up, brushed our teeth, and then retired to our tent. Once settled in, I tethered the flashlight to use as a reading lamp. I started by telling my son the story of the first night of Christmas and that what we were doing was almost like what the shepherds were doing as they set watches over their sheep. I then began reading Ezra Jack Keats’ "The Little Drummer Boy," a beautifully illustrated book I had bought him the day before:
“Come, they told me,
Our newborn king to see
However, I wasn't able to read much more than that. He had fallen into a cherubic sleep.
A week later, the snow had finally arrived. With the passing of each night that brought us closer to Christmas day, my son became increasingly anxious.
“Do you think Santa will really stop at our house?” he asked.
“Of course he will,” I had assured him. “You've been good, haven't you?”
“Yeah,” he said, smiling. “But Santa's really big!”
“Yes, he is,” I replied.
My little Socrates continued. “And he's coming down our chimney?”
"Yes,” I said.
“But the hole's not big enough,” my son replied. “If he can't come down our chimney, then will he go somewhere else?”
Not having an answer right away, I said, “Well, I'm sure Santa has some way of getting himself down the chimney. He's been going down all kinds of chimneys for years and years, so I'm sure ours wont be too difficult for him.”
“But how?” my son asked.
After a few moments, I blurted out, “Magic dust, I suppose. When a chimney's too small, he sprinkles magic dust on himself to shrink just enough to go down.”
Knowing my son would look for physical evidence, I bought a bottle of glitter from Ames Department Store the next day. On Christmas Eve, after I put him down to bed and read "The Night Before Christmas,” I sprinkled the “magic dust” from the chimney flue to the Christmas tree.
My imagination, however, didn't stop there. I had to do something more--something special--something other than the glitter, cookies and milk, something that once and for all would convince my son that Santa Claus was real. I went out into the barn and pulled out the scythe I used to whack the weeds with during the summer. I then found a six-foot pole. With a couple of tight wrappings of duck tape, I fashioned an extension to the scythe. I grabbed the ladder, climbed up the backside of the house and went to work.
I positioned myself at the top, being very careful not to break the snow covering on the front of the roof. For the next hour, I used the scythe with the duck taped extension to etch out sleigh tracks. Wanting to make it look like Santa had come in for a landing, I started the track closest to me slightly from the eve, and then I made the next track about three feet in from the other one. I kept both tracks about four feet apart.
Next, I worked on the reindeer tracks, which took more doing than I had thought. After I had finished with that, I guessed the spot where Santa would have exited from his sleigh and made footprints leading right up to the chimney.
When I had finished, I stood up to admire the work I had done. Just as I did, though, my left foot shot out from under me, and the next thing I knew, I was sliding off the roof. I tried to stop, but the scythe wouldn't grab hold.
Realizing I was going over, I chucked the scythe into the back yard as far as I could. I wasn't taking a chance of it landing on me or vise versa. Even with two feet of snow on the ground, I hit hard flat on my back with a thud that knocked the wind out of me. I stood up and walked around gasping for air. After a few minutes, I caught my breath and cursed myself for being so stupid.
The next morning, however, the smile on my son’s face as he woke up and discovered the magic dust, and the marvel of seeing the tracks up on the roof after I carried him outside to show him, had made the entire effort worth it. He believed.
We went back inside. As he unwrapped the toys and books given to him as presents from Santa, I realized I had given my son the greatest gift of all, not placed under the tree, but a gift given from within, a gift of faith, magic and love. After we picked up the wrapping paper, we sat down to a breakfast of banana pancakes and hot cocoa.
By S. L. Cunningham
Published in The Village Soup Citizen, 12/14/05: 27