Forty-two years ago this Christmas Eve I saw Santa. I didn’t see him at the mall or in a department store or ringing a bell on the street. I saw him in our living room at 4am. He wasn’t my dad in a suit or an inflatable dummy or a photograph, he was the embodiment of Christmas made visible. He filled the room, was semi-transparent, more spirit than flesh and didn’t notice a small boy crouching on the stairs and watching him between the newel posts. I know he was real precisely because he was so unnatural. You can’t see through your father in a Santa suit and no mundane human can fill a whole room.
This encounter with Santa is one of my most vivid memories from my childhood. It’s the only genuine supernatural experience I’ve ever had and I have no reason to believe it was anything but real. I wasn’t given to hallucinations as a child and haven’t had a history of mental illness in the years since then. I don’t think it was a holy vision. It certainly didn’t cause me to become particularly religious. It’s just this one, inexplicable incident when I glimpsed something beyond our normal reality.
I bore my children with the story every year, and I think my older daughter finds the whole concept somewhat embarassing. I guess it’s not cool to have a father who still believes in Santa. I think that in most ways I live a pretty rational life, but I can’t shake the reality of what I saw all those years ago. I wait up late every Christmas Eve – ostensibly filling stockings – hoping I might get lucky and see Santa again, though lately I have this morbid fear that if I see him again he’ll be the spirit of death come to take me away.
You can keep believing in Santa too, if you believe in the vision which I saw. Not a just someone who climbed down a chimney in a red suit, but something supernatural, intangible and spiritual. To me he was a momentous presence, not just some guy bringing presents. He infused the holiday with warmth and the spirit of giving, appearing not just in our living room, but far larger than those walls and present in myriad homes across the world at the same moment, uniting us all in one day of sharing and selflessness.
I still believe in Santa today as completely as I did when I first saw him all those years ago. He is real and he is out there in the world doing his good works just as much as he is within every one of us when we put the needs of others first in our hearts not just on Christmas but throughout the year.