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     Santa Claus: A plump, white-bearded and red-suited old man in modern folklore who delivers presents to children at Christmastime; also called Santa. – Merriam Webster Dictionary

Clamorous kids romped and ran everywhere, like grade-school recess the last day of school.

Sheer pandimonium. Children scampering around the Christmas tree, dashing into the dining room, and chasing one another into the kitchen already crowded with aunts, uncles and food.

Christmas Eve for a 6-year-old was indeed the biggest night of the year.

Not just because of Santa Claus and the promise of his arrival, but seeing all those cousins and playing games and wondering what the rest of the evening held.

The old two-story house where my paternal grandparents lived was the perfect place for a family gathering, and we knew that before the night was over, Santa would leave some presents under the tree.

The evening wore on and Aunt Helen announced that it was time for the children to go upstairs, that Santa was surely on his way, and that he would not stop unless he could do so unseen and uninterrupted.

Like shepherds herding sheep, Helen, Grandpa Pete and the other adults shooed the children toward the stairway.  Kids, being kids, resisted the idea, but the possibility of Santa bypassing us was a strong incentive, and soon the upper stairwell was packed with children.

And then, in a twinkling, my life changed.

The door at the bottom of the stairs was open just a crack, and I spied Aunt Helen scurrying toward the tree with some presents. My brain was having trouble computing this information. What was Aunt Helen doing? Where was Santa?

For me, the possibility of Santa being a made-up story did not come from a friend on the playground or an older brother; it came by accident one Christmas Eve long ago.

But as time passed, I came to realize that I had misunderstood. Santa did arrive that night, in his own special way. The presents were under the tree. My young eyes simply had not grasped the full picture.

A newspaperman, Francis Pharcellus Church, wrote it far better than I in an 1897 editorial when a distraught 8-year-old, Virginia O’Hanlon, sent a letter to The New York Sun saying that her friends doubted Santa Claus.

His reply: “Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.

“No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives and he lives forever.  . .”

Dec. 20, 2017