Spirit of Santa

I believed in Santa Claus. I knew he brought me gifts because my mom said so and moms are always right.
She told her five children to leave cookies or candy out for Santa on Christmas Eve. Every year I left the annual Christmas Eve party at my grandmother’s house with a napkin wrapped assortment of cookies and candies for him. Every Christmas Eve I left Santa a plate of treats. Every Christmas morning the food was gone.
The year before I went to kindergarten I got indisputable proof that Santa visited us. That Christmas Eve I was too excited to sleep after the party. Tucked into bed it the upstairs bedroom of the two-story house, I laid in the dark, wide-awake, impatiently waiting for morning. Then I heard it. Something on the roof above me.
I was a pretty smart 4-year-old. I knew who would be on our roof on Christmas Eve.
The next morning I went outside to the snow covered sledding hill behind the house and looked over at the roof of our house.
Two narrow parallel lines slashed across the snow covered shingles. I couldn’t see the hoof prints, but the tracks convinced me Santa’s sleigh had landed there.
As a first grader I did not question who left the presents under the tree until that day at lunch. My friend and I were carrying our trays to the table. She whispered to me, “did you know that Santa Claus is just your parents wrapping up gifts for you?”
“Uh uh!” I shook my head, “In the house we used to live in I saw the sled tracks he left on the roof.” Conversation closed.
But, the question had been raised and I began noticing things. Like the night my mother stayed in her bedroom for hours.
Every so often she would come to the door and ask one of us to carry a huge box filled with cheerfully wrapped packages downstairs and put them under the tree.
Before I carried a load of presents down the winding stairs, I stood hesitating at the door and looked at my mother, “If Santa brings us everything, why are you wrapping presents and putting them under the tree?”
She studied my face carefully answering, “Santa doesn’t have time to wrap all the gifts. I am helping him out by wrapping empty boxes. When Santa comes, he magically fills them with toys and presents.”
Made sense to me. Santa was a very busy man on Christmas Eve. Question answered, I carried the box of presents downstairs. Some of those empty boxes I shoved under the tree were labeled, “To: Joan. From: Santa.”
That year I saved Santa red and green decorated sugar cookies from the Christmas Eve party. The next morning the food was gone and we unwrapped the once empty packages to reveal the dolls, toys and new clothes Santa had filled them with just like my mother said he would.
It was a grand finale to a belief. By the next year I knew the spirit of Santa Claus is magically hidden inside the heart of anyone who gives to others.