She believed in Santa. A man who jingled in the skies. She did not necessarily believe in the chimneys and Rudolph, but she believed in the magic. She heard the bells and said to her parents, “Don’t you hear them? I can hear them. I hear the bells.”
She was never quite sure who Santa was, but the world was small to this seven-year-old and she was certain she could figure it out.
Once, she thought he might be Frank Sinatra. She just pretended Santa was a fat man with a beard to make her parents happy. She wanted him to be dapper even if she didn’t yet have the word for it. He sang about chestnuts roasting on an open fire and he seemed to want to travel back to another time, a magical time. She would stand on the front porch, smell the cold and look up toward the stars, and yearn. This meant something to her even if she didn’t yet know the word nostalgia either.
Her parents would slow dance in the living room, the seven fishes cooking in the kitchen. Family would come. There would be presents and laughter. She would wear her favorite burgundy dress with a pink ruffle hidden inside the sleeve like a secret. She thought it elegant, and no, she didn’t know that word either. Her uncle had brought it home from Germany. She didn’t understand what he was doing there, but he sent her books and beautiful clothes. He didn’t have children yet and she felt special. Like maybe, just maybe, he was her Santa.
And now each Christmas, she sets up the tree and hangs up the lights. She pauses with each ornament before hanging them on the tree. A red sparkly glob of painted string; a plastic elf that looks as if he ate children for dessert; a chipped nutcracker; a crumpled felt drummer boy; and even a shiny plastic Muppet character whose name she can’t recall. She would never get rid of them even if she could no longer remember where they came from. Only that they came from before. They all came from before.
She cooks the seven fishes; she had long ago given up believing. She listens to Frank Sinatra and tears up. I’ll be home for Christmas, he sings. If only in my dreams.
There is no Santa. Still she steps outside and looks up at the stars.
Her seven-year-old self whispers, “You aren’t alone.” And for that moment, she is comforted.