My first encounter with Santa was when I was 6 years old.
My parents dressed me in my new black-and-white checked coat with black patent leather shoes. They took me to a department store to see Santa for the first time. I have a picture of me sitting on Santa’s lap with an absolutely terrified expression on my face. I was no doubt thinking, “Who is this guy and why am I sitting on his lap?” I framed that picture and put it out every Christmas. It still makes me laugh every time I see it.
My next encounter with Santa happened when I was 8 years old. My Dad convinced his Moose Lodge buddy to dress up as Santa and deliver my first bicycle to our house on Christmas Eve. I was thrilled. I didn’t notice the ill-fitting Santa suit with the pillow stuffed in the front or the wires behind Santa’s ears holding up his flowing white beard. All I saw was the magic.
Over the years we had a Christmas Eve ritual that we followed. As soon as it got dark, my Dad would take us kids to an elderly friend’s house about 30 minutes away to wish her a Merry Christmas and deliver some Christmas cookies. My Mom didn’t go because she had to prepare Christmas Eve dinner. She would also remind us that she had to stay home in case Santa stopped by with our presents. Of course, Santa always brought the presents to our house when we were gone. We would come back and find brightly wrapped presents around the Christmas tree.
My Dad would be the acting Santa and hand out presents. He followed the “one person, one present” rule — he would give a present to one person to open and we would all wait until that person had opened their present and shown us all what they had received. One year my aunt and uncle and cousins stayed with us for Christmas. My uncle took over handing out presents and handed out everyone’s presents all at once. What followed was a 10-minute orgy of paper ripping and shrieks of surprise. To this day, I don’t know what everyone got for Christmas, including myself.
When I was 13 years old, I was sitting in my English class at school when the teacher announced that she wanted each student to stand in front of the class and give a short speech about “How I found out there was no Santa!” I must have had a horrified look on my face, because the boy in front of me turned around and blurted out, “I think Cheryl just found out!”
I did find out that day that there was no fat guy in a red suit living at the North Pole with a bunch of elves. But after some thought, I decided that Santa still did exist. He had trained up an army of helpers to assist him, and my parents were two of his best lieutenants. I had believed in Santa longer than most because I wanted to believe in the magic of Christmas and there is no expiration date for that belief.
Before I moved to Medford, I lived in Billings, Montana. Every Christmas Eve, there was a tradition of looking for Santa as soon as it got dark. A helicopter pilot had made an outline of Santa in his sleigh with his reindeer illuminated by Christmas lights. He would fly low over the city so that if you looked up in the dark sky, you would see Santa in his sleigh being led by his reindeer. It always made me smile to think of the boys and girls in the city looking up into the night sky and seeing Santa and his reindeer on Christmas Eve and believing in the magic of Christmas.
— Cheryl Pearson lives in Central Point.