Christmas—food, family, friends, and reminiscing. We remember the funny stuff. We think about those no longer with us, and we talk. Someone says, “Do you think it was Santa?” I shrug my shoulders, toss my hands in doubt, and think about a Christmas Eve mystery.
It was one of those rare Christmases when it actually snowed. Back then, we rotated Christmases between Victoria, Black Creek, a small community on the island just north of Courtenay and Mission, BC. On that mysterious night, our four little girls (two of them mine, two of them my nieces) are snug in their beds dreaming of Santa, stockings, and snowflakes. My husband and I are burrowed deep in our double-wide foamy on the floor of the family room. We are warm and cozy, dreaming of who knows what.
The old clock on the mantle ticks down the minutes until dawn. Outside snow falls silently, covering the sled tracks made earlier in the day. I hear the pitter-patter of feet creeping down the hall—bare feet slapping on hardwood. I pretend to be asleep. If I don’t make eye contact, maybe they will go away. No such luck.
“Mom, Mom, Mom!”
It starts out as a whisper and escalates to a muted shout. I crack one eye open and survey the two seven-year-olds standing before me. Even at three o’clock in the morning, there’s something endearing about their fuzzy Christmas eve jammies.
“What,” I mumble, hoping they’ll take the hint that I’m sleeping.
“Someone’s in the house.”
The two of them are whispering, glancing over their shoulders as if someone’s followed them and their kitty pajamas down the hall.
“Maybe it’s Santa,” I mutter, preparing to roll over and go back to sleep.
“No, Auntie Carol. Really. We heard it,” my niece whispers.
“Mom, come on.”
My daughter grabs my hand and pulls me out of my nice warm bed. I go with her because the sooner I investigate the Santa burglar, the sooner I can return to my bed.
“Why didn’t you wake Auntie Donna,” I ask, putting on my glasses and grabbing my housecoat.
“She’s sleeping,” they say in unison.
“I was sleeping,” I mutter.
They head down the hallway past the open door to my sister and her husband’s bedroom. I join them in my niece’s room. In the gloom I can see my other niece snuggled up with Little Beau, her ragged stuffed puppy. My nine-year-old daughter sleeps on peacefully. You would have to fire a rocket to wake her up.
“Okay, where’s the burglar?” I ask. Everything looks exactly as it had five hours earlier when we’d tucked them into bed.
I sigh and obediently listen. Then I hear it. I look around, trying to isolate the sound. It comes again.
“There! Did you hear it?”
I don’t answer, instead I’m looking at the baseboard heater on the wall below the window. “It’s the heater. The wires ping when the heat turns on.”
My niece violently shakes her head.
“No, it’s not on. Look!”
She drags me to the wall and shows me the thermostat. Drat, she’s right.
“There. Did you hear it?” my daughter repeats, moving closer to me.
There it is. A noise like the pinging of wires under stress or . . . bells jingling on a restless horse— is back. I roll my eyes at the thought, step closer to the window and peer through the blinds. No. I shake my head. Maybe the blueberry tea I’d sipped earlier was stronger than I’d thought.
I turn and leave the bedroom, tracking the sound. Two bare-footed, fuzzy pajama-clad girls trail behind. We track the sound through the house. I’m awake now. I check rooms, look for toys that make noise, and hunt for a logical explanation. The distant sound of jingling continues. I follow it to the front door. The wood parquet floor is cold under my feet. My hand rests on the doorknob. No. I’m not going to do it, but I do. I open the door and look out. It’s a winter wonderland. Snow covers the towering fir tree in the front yard. Multi-coloured lights line the branches, glowing through their blanket of white like brilliant gems. I close the door.
“Is it Santa,” the girls ask.
“I don’t know,” I mumble.
We do another circuit of the house, checking for anything out of place, hunting an explanation. There isn’t one. The jingle bells jangle softly.
I return to the front door and pull on my snow boots. The girls watch me with eyes as big as sugar plums. I hear it again, the sound of bells on a restive horse standing too long in one place. This is a rural area. The people across the street have horses. Right, and they’ve harnessed them up for a festive sleigh ride at 3 a.m. I look at the girls. They’re reaching for their boots. I shake my head no, and step onto the deck. Am I really doing this. Yes, I am. I plan to step onto the deck but I take the steps down to the sidewalk, turn and look up at the roof. Do I see a sleigh with nine reindeer? No. I shiver, pull my housecoat tighter and head back inside.
“It's gone,” the girls say. “Was it Santa?”
I answer, “I don’t know.”
When they ask me to sleep in their room, I agree. If it was Santa, he’s airborne by now. If it wasn’t . . . one foamy on the floor is as good as another.
Day breaks with the usual excitement of Christmas morning. The girls have a story to tell and their sisters are jealous they missed the adventure. As for me? I don’t know. Even now, part of me wonders, was it Santa? That same part of me wants to believe it was.