My Earliest Christmas Memory


One of my earliest memories involves Christmas Eve and Santa Claus. I can’t recall my age, perhaps five or so. We lived in the brick house my parents had built at the corner of Riverview and Central in Elizabethton, Tennessee. Santa was making his rounds that magical evening, so I was told, and would be stopping by with my gifts. The anticipation and curiosity were overwhelming, but I was most interested in Santa’s reindeer.

Finally the knock sounded and I ran to the door. There stood the chubby old man himself, dressed in red, laughing and ho-hoing, his arms filled with gifts, his eyes with sparkle. I couldn’t believe Mr. Claus from the North Pole was in our living room, the miracle man himself who could cover the whole wide world in a single evening. But most of all, I wanted to see those reindeer and I told him so.

He told me they were feisty that evening, kicking and acting up. He said it wouldn’t be safe.

This was disappointing, but I wasn’t ready to give up. As soon as he left, I ran to my bedroom and peered through the blinds, trying to get a glimpse of those wondrous flying creatures. What I saw instead was my dad, who had walked out with Santa, reaching in his pocket, getting his billfold, and handing ole St. Nick some money. The red-suited man got in a car and left.

This too was disappointing. I didn’t quite know what to make of it, but it was clearly the beginning of my awareness that maybe SC wasn’t a real person after all. I don’t recall being upset. I was distracted by the presents still sitting by the door. But it must have been rather disillusioning because I’ve not told that story to anyone until this year—nearly 60 years later.

At any rate, I have long since come to understand that the true Hero of Christmas didn’t show up in a red suit but in swaddling clothes, and He is as real as history, as real as time and space, as real as a Man can be. He never disappoints, and His gifts of grace are never exhausted. He isn’t mythological but miraculous, and my confidence in His reality has grown — not diminished — the more I’ve studied His story.

Christmas is the commemoration of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, before whom all creation bows.

Even reindeer.