It was December and the white birch trees, which surrounded Jenny’s house stood comfortably in the white snow. Inside the house Christmas preparations were moving fast. Upstairs Jenny had a closet full of presents for her sisters, mother and father. Downstairs her mother was turning out batches of sugar cookies and decorating them. The twins, Suzy and Sandra were trying to help but their cookies always looked like crazy quilts. When Jenny finished wrapping her presents she came down the back stairs and started to help decorate cookies. First she dipped the bell shapes in the dishes of red and green sugar glitter. Then placed the red hot buttons on Santa’s cap and the reindeer’s eyes. Her favorite decorations were the silver sugar balls that rolled so easily off the table. Mother showed Jenny how to put a little egg glue on the cookies so that the silver balls stuck on each point of the star.
When Daddy got home from work the real fun began. After dinner the family piled into the car and drove to choose the tree. Mr. Forbes, the garden manager, was as much past of the family Christmas as Santa Claus. The twins and Jenny tore down the rows of Christmas trees lined up along side of the highway. They rejected the dinky ones immediately and then yelled to Mother and Dad to come have a look. Dad unzipped his suede jacket and tucked his yellow scarf inside so it wouldn’t get in the way of hauling the tree and examining the tree’s lines. “Very important to have good lines,” he always told Jenny. Then before he pulled the tree out for a closer view he put on his gardening gloves and showed Mother the tree he thought had the best lines. Mother said, “Jack, I think it leans to the left.” Dad replied, “No, Jane look at it from this angle it’s nice and full and bushy at the bottom with enough little branches at the top for the small balls.” Mother wasn’t convinced but she saw the twins starting to fidget so she acquiesced. “Well, maybe you’re right. It looks like a beautiful tree.” Then Mr. Forbes came and helped put the tree on top of the car. He always tied the same sign on the end of the tree: “WIDE LOAD OF CHRISTMAS GEAR.”
When they got home Dad leaned the tree up against the wall in the garage so it would keep fresh until Christmas Eve. Only 3 days more. Some families had to decorate their own tree. Jenny had heard about that from her friends but in Jenny’s home, Santa decorated the tree Christmas Eve. All her father had to do was put the tree up and string lights on it. Dad explained that Santa was so old that he didn’t like to fool with electrical things. Once Santa saw the tree properly erected with the lights on, he magically threw the ornaments and tinsel on the tree. And it was always beautiful. Not only did Santa decorate their tree and leave the gifts he had brought for Jenny and her sisters but he came in person on Christmas morning!
Christmas Eve arrived and it was snowing. Jenny visited her birch tree and looked dreamily at the moon. She thought about all the presents she had made and whether or not she would get the bicycle that she badly wanted from Santa. When she returned Dad was bringing the tree inside. Every year he did the same thing. He took each perfectly coiled set of lights from the storage boxes and plugged them in to see if there were any dud bulbs. If there were Jenny brought some of the extras and the twins screwed in the replacements so the whole string was lit. Then Dad set up the ladder and started at the top of the tree. Jenny’s job was to feed the lights up to Dad so he could put them on all the branches. It was very important he would always say to let the lights follow the line of the tree. They were making nice progress when Mother brought in some eggnog. The whole family stood watching as the strings of light festooned the lower branches. When all the lights were hung, Dad connected them to the special heavy-duty extension cord, then told the twin to go over to the switch. He counted 1, 2, 3, and they turned on the Christmas tree lights. It was beautiful. But they hardly had time to enjoy it before Mother was saying “time for bed.” She brought a Santa cookie lined in red hots and a glass of milk to leave by the chimney. Then everyone hung up his or her stocking and Jenny, Suzy, and Sandra, went off to bed.
When Jenny crawled into bed she strained her ears for any sound of Santa and his reindeer. She was worried about the bicycle. Then she thought she would ask him directly for the bicycle when he came to her house in the morning. She wondered in Santa really lived in the North Pole. She thought he lived on a star. Then she thought of how far he had to travel to give gifts to all the children in the world. He must be really tired by the time he got to their house. Jenny decided to give him a big glass of orange juice so he would have enough strength to return to the North Pole.
Christmas morning was agony because the family had to go to Church before going in to see the tree and all the presents. The service was at 7:00 AM and it was freezing. Jenny usually slept through the Mass. When the priest said “go in peace, the Mass has ended,” Jenny and the twins woke up and bounded down the center aisle. They came home but entered through the kitchen. Another delay. Mother insisted that they drink orange juice and east some toast and peanut butter. Then finally Mother and Dad said OK and everyone charged into the living room.
It was wonderful. The tree sparkled in the gray snowy morning. On the very tope the star with the red ruby center glowed brightly. All the ornaments were perfectly placed on the tree. Santa had even remembered to put the smallest balls on the thinner upper branches just the way Dad like it. Jenny was casing the corner where her presents were grouped and she didn’t see a bicycle. The twins then started throwing wrapping paper at each other and laughing. Dad and Mother were laughing and then saying simmer down and then laughing down.
Then the doorbell rang. HE was here. Santa in the daytime at their house. Mom let him in and Jenny and the twins stared at him. Jenny felt almost freighted. Santa said “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas.” She looked at his bag and wondered if he had a miniature bike in there that he would magically make bigger. Santa walked into the living room with his wide black boots and sat on the window seat. Then he said in a deep voice. “Jenny would you mind going outside and casting an eye out for my sleigh, the reindeer needed some straw and my helper is bringing the sleigh back here.” Jenny said “sure, Santa,” and went to the front door. When she opened the door she saw a beautiful blue two-wheeler standing on the walk. She shrieked “Oh, thank you Santa, thank you.”
She wheeled it into the house and showed it to Mom and Dan jumping up and down with excitement. Santa was still on the window seat giving the twins a huge stuffed elephant. Mother said, “Go and thank him,” and pushed Jenny forward. Jenny went up to the side of his soft red jacket and looked into his face ready to say, “thank you so much Santa.” But a disorder occurred in her head and she looked at Santa’s face and with amazement she said, “Pappy?”
The twins didn’t hear her. Jenny felt herself whisked away upstairs to her room. She sobbed against Daddy’s shoulder. He held her tight, cuddled her head and then pulled out his big white handkerchief and made her blow her nose. Jenny looked at this and said “I was right, wasn’t I”? It was Pappy wasn’t it?” “And the nighttime Santa?” Her father said that Santa Claus was the spirit of Christmas of giving and loving that all parents felt towards their children. He said that’s why parent got their children presents, decorated a tree and made the holiday a special time. Jenny was still sniffling with upset. Then Dad said, “Now you know a secret Jenny and you have to be a big girl because the twins still believe in Santa Claus.” Jenny nodded her head “I understand, I won’t say anything.” She got off her father’s lap and went to the bathroom to wash her face.
That night after Christmas dinner Jenny went out to her birch tree. She felt the stillness of all the earth and looked back at her home cheerfully lit against the snow. No Santa Claus. Only her grandfather and parents all making Christmas. She felt sad inside like she had lost something. She had loved Santa Claus. Then, hugging her birch tree it came to Jenny in a flash. It was Santa Claus all along. He made Pappy and her parents and all parents give presents and work so hard. He was there even if you couldn’t see him and he worked in mysterious ways Jenny ran back to the house and bounded through the back door. “Merry Christmas.” She yelled to her mother who was folding the dishtowels. She tore through the living room where Dad was playing with the twins. “Merry Christmas, Dad.” “Merry Christmas Suzy and Sandy.” Then she ran up the back stairs to her room and opened her window and yelled “Merry Christmas Birch Tree.” And last “Merry Christmas, Santa I still love you.”