The Christmas we saw Rudolph

It was 1969 when my cousins Tom, Charlie, and I saw Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer. Our families were at Grandma Helen and Grandpa Bart’s home in Wisconsin for Christmas Eve. I didn’t know that my family would be moving to Colorado in the spring. The grown-ups knew this so they planned a special Christmas for everyone, especially us kids. Much planning, many secrets, and a synchronistic event from the universe made it one of the most special Christmas Eve’s in my memory.

Grandpa Bart and my father were both Christmas junkies so the entire house was decorated like Santa’s elves had come in. The house had a large round sitting room to the left of the entry door and that’s where the tree was. It was a huge tree and it filled the room. Mom tells me it was about 8 feet tall and took several people to set it up.

The house smelled wonderful, food was cooking and the television was playing the requisite football games. We cousins were playing and trying not to get in anyone’s way. I remember a radio playing in the kitchen and at various times the women would sing along with Christmas carols being played. The men were watching the television and doing various small chores. My job was to keep Tom and Charlie entertained since I was the oldest.

Dinner was eaten late in the afternoon. Everyone ate more than they should and laid on the couches and chairs to watch more football. We kids were again sent off to play and burn the energy from our sugar high. We went into the front living room and played quietly on the coffee table and the couch. We talked about those important things that only children understand. I knew the importance of this night and told Tom and Charlie that Santa Claus would be coming soon. We had to be on our best behavior as we were being watched by his helpers.

After a while, I noticed that it was getting late and no one was getting us ready for bed. In fact, I couldn’t really tell what the grown-ups were doing; I could hear soft talking noises and some laughing but that was it. Maybe they had forgotten about us. I started to get nervous- if we weren’t in bed when Santa came, we wouldn’t get any presents. I told Tom this and he got worried too. Charlie just burped.

Tom and I looked around to find out what was going on when we heard something strange off in the distance. The street was quiet so any noise could be heard in the cold air. It sounded like bells but not church bells; this was more like sleigh bells. Oh no! Its sleigh bells from Santa’s sleigh and we weren’t in bed, we were still in the living room! I looked around to find a place for us to hide.

The bell sounds were getting closer. I found a place under the big dining room table. The tablecloth was down to the floor and it would hide us nicely. We had to make sure Charlie stayed quiet. Tom grabbed Charlie’s bottle and we hid quickly. We got under the table just in time; the bells were really close now. Tom and I were scared and excited. Charlie started to pick up that something was going on but he stayed quiet.

Then the bells stopped. It was quiet for a few seconds then we heard another sound but on the roof. It sounded like something walking. We looked at each other and broke out into big smiles. We knew who was up there and we heard them. It had to be the hooves of the reindeer! Santa, his sleigh and reindeer were on OUR roof!!!!! No one was going to believe this! We listened for a few minutes, and then it was silent again. Then we heard more hoof noises. The bells rang again. The sound started to get further away. We listened until we thought they were far away enough and ran to the window to look up into sky. It was cloudy but in the distance, we saw a red light in the clouds that had to be Rudolph’s nose. We looked at each other and smiled. We had just seen something wonderful and very secret.

Both of us realized at the same time what Santa’s visit meant-PRESENTS! We ran to the table and grabbed Charlie. Our next stop was the Christmas tree. We stopped in the doorway and stood there with our mouths open. Under the tree were what seemed like hundreds of gifts. The tree itself had changed too. Lights were on, tinsel was hung and it looked like a Christmas tree from a magical place. It was beautiful! Tom ran off to get the grown-ups. They came into the room and were just as surprised as we were. I got everything on my list that year, so did Tom and Charlie. It was pure magic.

Years later, I finally heard the true story of this event from my mother. The adults planned for this to be the best Christmas because they didn’t know how long it would be before we could be together again so it was to be a true celebration. After dinner, the adults went into the family room and turned on the television loud enough to cover what was being said. They wanted us to think they were talking and/or sleeping. While we played, they were upstairs getting the gifts down the back stairs. Those stairs led into the sitting room from a different direction so we didn’t see or hear them.

My father and Grandpa Bart went outside to make the sleigh and hoof noises. They had collected rocks to throw onto the roof. They went down the block and rang sleigh bells while walking slowly up to the house, and then threw the rocks onto the roof. I asked mom how they arranged the red light in the sky. She asked me what light? I told her what Tom and I had seen and she looked at me and said that they hadn’t done anything like that. We looked at each other and I smiled.

I know that one rational explanation is that a plane flew over at the same time and that’s all it was. However, I like to live in a more magical world and so I believe in synchronicity. So what if it was a plane? The point is that it flew over us right when we needed it to. That’s what made it magic. Tom and I saw Rudolph’s nose shining in the sky that Christmas night. He and I talked about it several years ago; it is one of his fondest memories. It’s one of mine too. It’s the best Christmas memory I have.


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