The Christmas holiday has always been special for me. I grew up as one of five siblings, in a large, Irish, Roman Catholic family, during the more innocent decades of the '50s and '60s.
Admittedly, it probably wasn't as kind and gentle as my feeble memory allows; yet it was a time when manners still mattered. Children addressed adults with a, "Yes, ma'am" or "No, sir." Men held the door and boys pulled out chairs for the girls at the dinner table.
My father was a school principal, and mom was a housewife - a title most people considered an honorable occupation, prior to Women's Lib.
Through the focused vision of my youthful eyes, Christmas was a celebration of family mixed in with a few Holy Days, and the arrival of Santa. It was also an event comparable to celebrating a half-dozen birthdays, all rolled into one.
Maybe it's due to my miniature stature, but I'm certain the snow back in those days always piled up much higher, than it's ever piled up since. We never needed a hill to slide down; we simply climbed to the top of the snowbanks.
Our parents always devised a special Christmas surprise and dad always seemed to have something up his sleeve. I'm certain he was a magician, for somehow, he always managed to hide a huge assortment presents from the prying eyes of five, curious kids.
On Christmas Eve, we would lie awake in our beds and giggle with glee as we listened to Santa's sleigh bells ring directly outside our windows. Although we wanted to sneak a peek, to actually see the famous fat man, dressed in red, none of us ever dared.
On Christmas morning, after the whole troop had finished marauding through the house, mom would chase us outside to play.
And sure enough, every year, across the roof of our home, we would see evidence of Santa's visit. It wasn't imagined, we actually saw his footprints and they led directly to our chimney. It was verified by our own eyes.
Many years had passed, and I had two children of my own, when dad finally 'fessed up. Every year, he explained, he would hire a few, young teachers to visit our house on Christmas Eve. They would carefully throw snowballs on the roof to look like Santa's footprints had gone directly to the chimney.
After this was accomplished, the cunning culprits would take a long pole wrapped with bells, to make Santa's sleigh bells ring through our bedroom windows.
Immediately, I decided to co-opt my father's devious designs for my own children. Fortunately, our house had a flat deck roof just outside of the master bedroom, and the chimney is located right outside the window.
So, being a dutiful and devious dad, I step outside my window every year on Christmas Eve, to deck the deck. To assure the authenticity of my hoax, I always attach the hoof of a whitetail deer to a hockey stick with duct tape. Then, I carefully slip outside into the cold, evening air.
Stepping out the window, I walk backwards from the chimney to where Santa's sleigh was allegedly parked. With the blade of the stick, I inscribe lines where the sleigh runners landed and with the hoof, I track the roof with authentic reindeer prints. I've always been careful to insure the prints are legible from the window, since my daughters could identify deer tracks from a young age.
Of course, this is all accomplished in the wee hours of the morning. Earlier in the evening, before they go to sleep, I always attach Santa's sleigh bells to a long, pruning pole and ring them outside of their bedroom windows.
Like clockwork, on Christmas morning, the girls will rush to pull open the curtains and peer out the window to insure Santa made his appointed rounds.
Then, the family flocks downstairs to the Christmas tree, set up in the fireplace room. Cookies left for Santa are always eaten, and his cup of milk is empty. As presents spill out from under our tree, a tiny spark of Christmases past is gently reignited inside of me. Although my girls are now grown, the annual ritual continues and it seems to preserve the joys and wonders of their childhood days.
However, there was one year, where I came tragically close to ending the tradition. It happened in the late evening hours, as I silently slipped out the bedroom window with a hoofed, hockey stick in hand to set down the tracks.
In my haste to get the job done, I completely forgot that the old, flat roof had recently been replaced with a brand new, shiny, red metal roof. Of course, our new roof had been constructed with a proper pitch intended to shed the snow.
I held onto the window frame as I backed out the window onto the new roof. It was covered with a light dusting of fresh snow and as I turned to set the tracks, I began to slide. I knew I was on the way to a hard fall.
In desperation, I hooked the windowsill with the stick and called to my wife for help. Fortunately, I made it back, unharmed and the tradition has continue. Although the girls are grown, and I know they know the jig is up; I continue to venture out the window every Christmas Eve (safely secured by a safety rope). It is still important to me to ensure they can see Santa's sleigh still tracks our roof.
And even though my parents are both now gone, I have the sneaking suspicion they continue to keep an eye on these Irish-inspired shenanigans that serve to keep their original, magical Christmas efforts alive.