It was Christmas morning 1981, I was 18 years old, and my younger brother Tim had turned 16 that summer. There was much teasing around the house in those months leading up to December. Tim was looking forward to a car for Christmas from Santa Claus. However, with 6 children in the house we all new this would truly be a Christmas miracle.
Christmas morning that year was much like the many before, steeped in tradition. We began by unloading our stockings from Santa. My mother was still honoring the magic of Santa Claus since my youngest sisters were just 12 at the time. (Actually I think they were 30 before my mother gave in and stopped filling stockings for us.) The morning proceeded with brunch and then we would undress the tree. My mother never liked us to rush the day. While she was preparing brunch, my brother began his banter about a car from Santa. He even went so far as to go to the front door to see if it was parked in the driveway. He opened the front door to find a parcel on the front porch, addressed to the Kowalsky family. A simple card was enclosed: signed Santa Claus.
What an exciting morning as the quest began to uncover the identity of our Santa. Phone calls to various family and friends were placed. However, everyone deigned any involvement. Believing this was a one-time gift we left it alone. No one was going to own up to it. When Christmas of 1982 came and another gift arrived we began the investigation all over again, but when Christmas 1983 arrived, I must admit we were all anxiously awaiting to see if Santa had done his job. As I reflect back now, there is irony in the fact that our mystery Santa came at a time in our lives when all six children were in their teens and 20’s.
We would continue each year for the next 28 years gathering together on Christmas day and the question would be: Did Santa come? What did he bring? You would have thought we were all 5 years old again. That small gift, the magic of it appearing out of nowhere, a simple card signed Santa Claus created in us a sense of wonder and excitement. The same feeling you cherish from the first Christmas you can recall of your childhood, the magic we all try to create each year for our own families.
For our family, Santa Claus is not something that is reserved for the young, nor is he a fictional character. I have been experiencing the spirit of Santa Claus along with the rest of my family for over 28 years. The gifts have arrived in various forms, some left on front door steps, some by taxi, some left at the back of the church on Christmas Eve, some delivered by a Santa for hire.
The gift was always an item that can be shared by the entire family. After the first couple of years, we began to accept our Santa, the questions and investigations stopped. We acknowledged and respected the gifts with the intentions with which they were given.
Each year when we gather on Christmas Day, my mother will hand us the card and show us the gift one at a time as we arrive. For those few moments we ponder this mystery Santa, appreciate his years of service to our family, his contribution to keeping the spirit of Christmas alive long after our childhood years have passed and teaching us the real spirit of giving.
In all these years, we have never been able to thank this Santa or return the kindness to him. We can do only one thing, pay it forward. He has made a great gesture without any expectation of reciprocation or recognition; this truly is the personification of Santa Claus. We need more Santa’s in this world.