A couple months after I began my first job out of college as a reporter for the La Crosse Tribune, I had this idea of writing a story about what it was like to be Santa. So I dressed up and became Santa at a local discount store.
The kids who sat on my lap had fun, as I did. I was nothing like that Santa in the A Christmas Story movie and, thankfully, no kids wet themselves on me.
A terse letter to the editor followed publication of my story, saying that I was spoiling the holiday since I obviously looked fake.
That letter writer—the real Santa Claus—became a friend, and beginning in 1981, he started coming to our house on Christmas Eve. We would leave a few of the kids’ presents outside the door that would then go into his sack for delivery in our living room.
Santa has been with us in times of great joy and in times of sadness. In 1982, our son, Matt, was hospitalized with leukemia, diagnosed just a few days earlier. Santa arrived with Star Wars toys in his sack but had to wave from the doorway as our son had already started chemotherapy and his weakened immune system didn’t allow visitors.
Before he left with his usual, “Ho, ho, ho,” Santa promised to come to our house next year. I took his words as an assertion that our lives would return to normal, whatever that was.
We were quite excited on Christmas Eve 1983, waiting in our home for the jolly man to arrive. But with no sign or sound of him by 9:30, we put Matt and Maggie to bed.
I then lay on the couch feeling sorry for myself because Santa forgot. I was just so sad.
And then I thought I heard sleigh bells. Or was I imagining it? Next, I heard a knock at our door. You cannot imagine the joy I felt when I opened the door and Santa stood there. Kids already in bed? No problem, Santa made his deliveries to them in their bedrooms.
Our special Santa appreciates and understands we are a family with both Christian and Jewish roots. He attended son Michael’s Bar Mitzvah, although not in his red suit. The next Christmas Eve, Santa arrived at our house wearing the yarmulke (skull cap) he was given at the Bar Mitzvah.
Santa doesn’t discriminate by age when it comes to handing out gifts at our house, which leads me to one more story. This one involves my mom after she moved to La Crosse in 2001. A few days before the holiday, Mom and I talked about her Soldan High School years in St. Louis, Missouri, and how she did not have the yearbook from her senior year.
The next morning I woke up with an idea. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I typed the key words into a search box on eBay, but there it was. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck when I saw an auction for a 1933 Soldan yearbook ending at 8 p.m. that very night. I was out of my mind with excitement, raising my top bid repeatedly during the day in fear someone would outbid me.
I contacted the seller, who agreed to send it overnight if I won. And I did. Who else would be looking for a 1933 Soldan yearbook at that moment?
That evening, Santa arrived and as usual, he began calling up the kids and then the adults to ask what they wanted for Christmas. Santa saved my mom for last. When he presented mom with the yearbook, she was wide-eyed with amazement. Still sitting on Santa’s lap, my shocked mother turned to me and said, “How in the world?”
Perhaps because I had once played Santa, albeit a fake-looking one, I knew about Santa making dreams come true (with a little help from friends at eBay).
So how about you? Has Santa made any personal visits to your home or office? Tell us your Santa tales, past or present.
About today’s contributor: Susan T. Hessel is the At-Large Director for the Association of Personal Historians. She calls her personal history business Lessons From Life because the stories she saves for individuals, families, and businesses help make connections between generations.
Sue as Santa photo courtesy The La Crosse Tribune. Other photos from Sue’s family collection.