Bubba and Tisha really set me up.
My family made it very, very hard not to believe. Every Christmas Eve after mass, we sat together on the couch and read Christmas stories. After the last line of “On the Night Before Christmas” Sister and I ran up the stairs and climbed into our bunk beds where she fell asleep immediately and I stared at the bottom of her bunk. This happened every night, not just Christmas Eve. My entire life I have been too excited to sleep. Another post perhaps.
A few hours after being tucked in, we would hear bells ringing outside of our window and we’d pop up in bed, deliciously terrified. Tisha would crack open our bedroom door and whisper “GIRLS, he’s HERE!” And we’d shake and cry a little, grab each others’ hands and follow my mom to the top of the stairs. The three of us crouched together in a little huddle and peeked downstairs to see SANTA CLAUS IN OUR LIVING ROOM. He’d sit in my dad’s chair for awhile, eating cookies and talking to “Jack Frost” about what good girls we’d been. Then he’d get up, open his sack, and put our presents under the tree. Sister cried and buried her head in my mom’s neck the ENTIRE time. After a few minutes, Tisha walked us back to our room, tucked us in again, and we’d hear the bells once more outside our window. In the morning we’d find chewed up carrots all over the front yard because the reindeer had dropped them when they flew away.
It was all enough to make a believer out of me. For a very, very long time. Don’t even get me started on the Tooth Fairy.
When I was in fifth grade, Bubba and Tisha sat me down and told me that Santa was actually the clown of Christmas, but the spirit of Santa was real. The Santa Spirit was loving and helping and giving. And Bubba showed me his Santa suit and explained that the Santa in the living room was actually him. I was sad, but also excited. If a kid has to discover that Santa’s not who she thought he was, finding out that he’s actually your dad makes the blow easier to take.
Ironically, the day I found out that Santa wasn’t “real” was the day his magic came alive. Because my parents invited me to participate in a Christmas miracle. It turned out that Bubba wasn’t just Santa for Sister and me. That wasn’t actually his Santa point.
One Saturday every December, Bubba got suited up and went to a center for special children and young adults. He would set them each on his lap, even those who weighed more than He, and tell them all how good they’d been and how special they were. He’d bring them presents and joy and some Santa friendship. And he invited me along. So for a decade, I got to be Bubba’s elf every Christmas.
And when Sister got old enough she became Elf Number Two. ELF NUMBER TWO.
It was special.
One of my favorite Christmas moments of all time happened Christmas Eve 2006. Craig, Sister, Bubba, Tisha, and I had just put Chase to bed and we were expecting Bubba to suit up and begin the Santa performance. But when we asked Bubba when he was going to get started, He and Tisha shook their heads, smiled, and passed the Santa Sack to Craig.
Anyone who knows Craig can imagine how thrilled he was about this passing of the torch. Craig has taken the Santa tradition to new heights, literally. Last year he climbed onto the roof so the kids would see him “taking off” through the skylight. He also was so desperate to be seen in his Santa glory that he decided to stop by the grocery store and pick up a six pack. He will not be doing either of those things again this year.
Thank you, Bubba and Tisha…for always, always keeping the magic alive for Sister and me. And now for the rest of us.
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a goodnight.”
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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