Christmas was coming, and little Steve O’Neill was ready to catch the man in red in action.
Just one of the aliases this guy was using to keep me off his trail. Santa Claus, Saint Nick, and now Father Christmas was the newest addition to the list. Was this clown actually calling himself the Father of Jesus? That’s a bold move old man… I’m on to you.
This guy was like Jason Bourne.
The most intel I could gather had to do with some sweatshop he ran out of the North Pole using cheap elf labor. Then he would deliver his product across the world using a flying sled pulled by reindeer on Christmas Eve to all of the good boys and girls on his list. A list that I heard he always checked twice.
Well check your back twice Santa, because I’m going to catch you in the act soon enough.
I tried to team up with the local news channel because each year I noticed they had a Santa Tracker the meteorologist used to inform me when I should go to bed in preparation to receive Claus’ gifts. On a side note, I’m gonna go ahead and say that Doppler radar is one hell of an invention.
Unfortunately Channel 4 didn’t take a 5 year old very seriously. Obviously they didn’t know I had never been more serious in my life. I wasn’t going to stop until I found out if this guy was real or just a great big phony.
I needed evidence.
Something solid I could pin on this guy. If I was lucky, I might be able to find some reindeer droppings on the roof Christmas morning. Using my connections at the Zoo, I could cross reference the stool sample with the reindeer they had in their database.
There was only one hole in my plan. I didn’t actually know anyone at the Zoo.
Come to think of it, there were a lot of holes in my plan. I wasn’t big enough to move the ladder to get onto the roof. I mean yeah, I was strong for my age, but 50 lbs to a 5 year old might as well be 1,000,000 lbs. My guess is that no such reindeer poop database really existed either.
I was going to have to think simpler.
The clock was ticking and midnight on Christmas Eve was rapidly approaching.
DNA testing from the saliva left on the milk glass? Still a little out of my skill range.
Maybe I could compare boot prints in the snow with police reports involving breaking and entering? Damnit, I missed that lecture the other day in Kindergarten. Nap time ran long.
Come on Steve, think simple. What do you love to do? Write.
I hurried off the bed muttering a very brief yet excited “goodnight!” to my parents as I shuffled passed them in my Superman embroidered, footed pajama onesie. Santa brought it for me last year.
I had trouble finding sleep due to my recent epiphany. That and the 2 dozen Christmas cookies I ate before bed; I have a sweet tooth. The weight of my eyelids finally won the battle against my excitement and the lights went out.
‘Twas the night before Christmas…
when all through the house
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
the stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…
That sonofabitch had better shown up or I was going to hunt his ass down in my classic red Radio Flyer wagon (it’s 1989, they’re still in use at this point in time and don’t cost $94.99).
Morning had finally arrived; it was time.
I was hoping my newly acquired skills of reading and writing would pay off. Granted, I wasn’t very good at either – most of my writing was more illegible scribbles than anything else – but I was hopeful.
The rest of the family was already up, preparing for breakfast. Normally, I would have been engrossed by the delicious aroma of bacon and eggs wafting through the air, but my mind was preoccupied with the mystery at hand.
I devoured breakfast then anxiously ran to the base of the Christmas tree. I began separating presents based upon one criterion: the names printed on the nametag. Pretty logical huh?
“Here’s one for you mom, and one for you dad…”
This went on for a short while until all of the presents had been properly distributed to their rightful owners.
Holy cow! I had just realized there were some pretty awesome gifts hidden beneath the wrapping paper; assuming Mom, Dad and Santa would deliver on their promise. What?! The new LEGO Ice Planet 2002 Ice Station Odyssey! Just what I wanted!
I was almost as excited as the Nintendo 64 kid.
The Ice Station Odyssey had a control center under the transparent orange canopy, a small rocket launchpad with a missile erector, a magnet crane that can slide back and forth on rail tracks, and…
Wait a minute, this is what HE wanted. Kringle knew I would be easily distracted by this amazing advancement in miniature building block construction. Stay focused kid. I had to get back on track.
I rummaged through the pile of wrapping paper collecting bits of evidence. My plan: use the very same nametags I used to distribute the presents as writing samples to compare the handwriting of Kris Kringle to that of family.
First, my mom and dad’s present to me.
Simple enough, that’s Donna’s handwriting for sure. Now on to Grandma’s gift to me.
Looks like Bernice’s handwriting. Let’s proceed now to Santa’s present to me.
Yup, that looks like Santa’s penmanship for sure… wait… no, it can’t be.
Mom… Dad… you’re the ones behind this yuletide hoax? I couldn’t believe my eyes; I didn’t want to believe my eyes.
I confronted my parents shortly after this discovery, heartbroken with a heavy feeling of dejection. They threw out some lame excuse that I wanted to believe, but just couldn’t.
“Well son, you see, Santa was really busy this year so he asked us to lend him a hand and label the presents for him.” They insisted it was the truth, but deep down I knew better. I felt betrayed and distraught, as if my whole world was falling down around me. I had so much life yet to live, was his how it was going to be?
Something caught my attention, shimmering from the Christmas tree.
I spent the rest of Christmas day trying to rekindle the fiery passion I once had for the holidays by constructing my new LEGO space station. My love for LEGOs was great, but nothing could outweigh the disappointment I had experienced earlier in the day.
But just as I was ready to head off to bed, I saw it. Something caught my eye as I began walking toward my bedroom.
It stopped me dead in my tracks. I began to approach the Christmas tree, zeroing in on exactly what grabbed my attention.
The colored lights that hung from the tree were the only source of light in the otherwise pitch black living room. The soft melody of Bing Crosby’s voice gently danced across the air as I found myself humming along to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.
I leaned in close enough to the Christmas tree that I could smell the strong scent of pine given off by the still fresh forest green needles. I was now staring into the culprit of my delayed bed time.
It was a reflective silver ornamental ball. The kind you see on nearly every Christmas tree.
This one had been slightly jostled by my brother as he gently brushed up against the tree on his way to the kitchen. At that exact moment, light had reflected off the ball and struck my eye as I had turned to go to bed. That’s what caught my attention.
I looked closer. I stared blankly into this reflective orb until something came into focus; it was the living room. I saw my parents sitting on the couch, taking in the last magical moments of Christmas. Just then, my brother jumped on the couch in between my mom and dad.
That was it – I began to grin from ear to ear.
The silver globe held in it an image of me, my brother, my mom, and my dad; all together.
It encapsulated the true essence of the holidays: family.
My parents weren’t trying to deceive me with the whole Santa Claus bit. They were encouraging my imagination to run wild. They were allowing me to pretend. They were letting me be a kid.
For that, I am forever grateful.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
May it be one filled with love, joy, and LEGO Ice Planet 2002 Ice Station Odysseys.
Originally published at hobodrifter.com.
Photo courtesy of author.
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