The ground is bare and there’s no snow in sight around Sherpeland. The past few years we’ve been buried in snow by this time. Unless things change in the next week, I fear Santa will have a hard time with his deliveries in this area. But then he never seems to have any problems in the southern parts of the country, so I don’t think I have anything to worry about.

I know this is just the calm before the storm, but to tell the truth, I could get used to winters like this. It’s nice not having to put on five layers of clothes, boots, heavy gloves and a double-layer stocking cap just to walk to the end of the driveway and get the mail. Last year I even had to resort to using my snowshoes to get to the bird feeders. I got tired of opening a path every day only to have the wind drift it shut as fast as I could blow it out.

Put it this way: I’m not dreaming of a white Christmas. I’ll let Bing dream about that. When I was young, I’d have been entering panic mode if there was no snow this close to Christmas. I still have vivid memories of listening to the radio on Christmas Eve as they gave reports on the sightings and progress of Santa and his reindeer. As they got closer, it was time to set out a plate of Norwegian baked goods for Santa. Everyone who stopped at our house was fed and given coffee, even Santa. Although Ma left a glass of milk instead of coffee because she said the coffee would be cold by the time Santa arrived, and not even Santa liked cold coffee. We even left some carrots for the reindeer. They get hungry, too, pulling the heavy sleigh, Santa and all the presents.

Christmas is an exciting time for children. We need to retain some of that childhood magic of Christmas as we get older.

In Ben Logan’s wonderful book “Christmas Remembered,” he has a story called “Santa Claus is a Woman.” He tells how his family all waited around for someone to make Christmas happen that first winter after his mother had died. He remembered that Christmas was a casualty of her death.

Ben and I have talked about that story and the feelings he had as a 17-year-old boy whose mother was no longer there to make Christmas happen. It got me thinking about my mother and how important she was to our family at Christmas. We didn’t know it at the time, but she was Santa Claus, just as Ben Logan said his mother was in his story.

Our father bought the tree and set it up in the stand, but that’s usually where the role of most men ended in making Christmas happen. Then the women took over. Ma brought down the boxes of lights and ornaments that were stored in the upstairs walk-in attic. She strung the bubble lights, hung the ornaments with the help of us kids and let us put the icicles on the tree. When we got older and could reach, we got to put the angel on top of the tree. That was a special job. She then opened the red folded paper bells, fanned them out to form a bell shape and hung them from a door. I haven’t seen one of those bells since I was young.

When the tree was ready, she decorated the house, hand-addressed and wrote on all the Christmas cards, baked all the Christmas cookies and other Norwegian goodies and bought and wrapped the presents. The house came alive with the Christmas spirit when she was done.

When I was young and still believed in Santa, it was Ma who comforted me and reassured me that Santa was real and would still bring presents after Sandy told me there was no Santa Claus. Just because we didn’t have a fireplace was no reason for Santa to skip our house. He could always use our front door that was never locked. And no, he wouldn’t get burned up in our wood-burning stove if he came down the chimney. Santa had magical powers and could even make himself small enough to squeeze through the damper in the stovepipe. I couldn’t understand how he could also squeeze his bag and our presents through there, but he always did. He ate all the cookies and drank the milk we left for him, too.

Yes, the women always have made Christmas happen. My mother turned the rituals of the season into memories that I still carry and bring to life again each Christmas season.

I know all the pictures we see of Santa show a large man in a red, fur-lined suit with a bushy, white beard. But tell me this: Have any of you ever seen the “real” Santa on Christmas Eve? Not just those Santa’s helpers that you see in the malls. We never saw him, but he always showed up after we had finally fallen asleep. I’m willing to bet that if we had been lucky enough to catch even a fleeting glimpse of Santa, it would have been a small, thin woman wearing an apron and bearing a striking resemblance to my mother.

It’s just like Ben Logan said, Santa Claus is a woman.


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