“Up on the housetop, reindeer pause…” At least my little brother Carter was certain he heard them.  The fact that we had no chimney for jolly old Saint Nick to slide down did nothing to deter his vivid imagination. Santa had proven himself to be a clever fellow who made his way faithfully into our living room every Christmas Eve without the requisite chimney mode of travel we saw on Christmas movies and in books.

Days were as long as years during December. But finally, Christmas Eve arrived.

Snug in our warm pajamas, we waited for the news anchor to tell us exactly where Santa’s sleigh was last spotted in the big, wide world before we were corralled off to bed. Santa would be at our house this very night!

“Remember, you have to wait until the sun is up. Then we will all go in to the living room together,” Mom said while tucking us into bed.

His flannel pajamas made a soft, muffled swishing sound as Carter sneaked out of bed and padded down the hall to our sisters’ room sometime in the middle of the night. “Hey, y’all. Wake up! I heard reindeer on the roof!” he whispered. From the bedroom next door, I listened. I didn’t hear the reindeer, but I did hear noises in the front of the house. Mom was a night owl and probably hadn’t gone to bed yet. I hoped she wouldn’t scare Santa away. Everyone knows he won’t come until everyone is asleep.

ddwc-treeI slipped quietly from my room and into my sister's room. A light glowed under the door to the living room. Somebody was in there, be it Mom or Santa. Either one, Christmas was on hold as long as we were awake. Between my sisters’ twin beds, Carter sat on the floor, his hushed voice holding the girls spellbound with his tale. The nightlight in the corner cast a cozy warmth to the otherwise cold room where the wood floor was freezing my bare feet.

“Santa doesn’t need a chimney,” Carter was explaining. “He has a key for all the doors in the world. But he still lands his sleigh on the roof. He’s in the living room right this minute!”

“Yeah, and he might not be finished, y’all,” I let my presence be known. “The light is on in there.”

“I know! It’s Santa!” Carter insisted. The girls were wide-eyed and maybe a little nervous about the great, bearded man being right in the house. He scared them quite thoroughly when they sat on his lap a few days ago. “Will he come in here?” Claire asked around her thumb, anxiety at the prospect clearly real. Both girls held tightly to their blankets.

“No. He will put out our presents, eat his cookie, drink his milk then hurry away,” I said with first-born authority. “He has a lot of houses to visit.

“How can he go to every house in the world in one night?” my baby sisters marveled.

“He’s magic! He can do anything,” Carter replied with conviction.

img_4405-by-mikon-haaksman“I heard him, Kim.” Carter so avidly believed in the clatter of reindeer hooves that all four of us heard their bells jingling as the sleigh lifted off from our roof.

Sunrise found us back in our own beds, but only barely. We met in the hallway, Christmas hair sticking out everywhere, pajamas wrinkled and wadded from sleep. As one, we traipsed to Mom and Dad’s bedroom door.

“Mom! Dad! The sun is up! It’s Christmas!” we yelled in unison.

We could barely contain ourselves as we waited for Mom to get her camera, the kind with a four-sided flashcube on top, and for the coffee to be ready.

Then Dad opened the living room door. The Christmas lights danced in the tree amidst presents. Carter was right. It was reindeer we heard on the roof. Bing Crosby caroling from the stereo, ripping wrapping paper and shouts of joy echo in this sweet memory I’ll revisit every year as long as I live.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this holiday scene that repeated itself in similar likeness from Christmas to Christmas all my childhood. Oddly, we kids are all grown now with children of our own who would sleep right through Christmas if we didn’t wake them. But we do. And Carter is still the lucky one who hears the reindeer and stirs the rest of us to believe one more time.

May the magic and wonder of Christmas fill every Denton home this season, and may we never stop believing.