I am five years old, starring in my first Christmas pageant as a dancing doll. I'm wearing a red satin dress, white tights and shiny black shoes, and my mom has spent hours curling my hair just so. The finishing touch: a Christmas ribbon in my hair, and a Santa Claus pin on my dress that my grandfather gave me the year before. My father tells me I am like Cinderella at the ball, and I feel beautiful, like a princess.
During the pageant, I dance and sing, remember every line, every movement, and just when I think it can't get any better, the doors swing open, and in walks Santa, jolly like he should be, carrying a sack overloaded with presents. We all screech in delight, in excitement, 20 five-year-olds who cannot believe that of all the places Santa has to be, he has chosen this little schoolhouse in Shapleigh, Maine to visit.
He rushes to the stage, shouting Ho Ho and Merry Christmas, and begins pulling gifts out of his bag and calling names. I move a little closer and realize there is something familiar about this Santa...the way he giggles when he hands each child a present, the way his nose crinkles when he smiles, the way his hands look so soft and gentle, so familiar. And so I creep closer, look in his eyes, and realize those eyes look like home to me. He calls my name "Darlene" and as I get close enough to touch him, he winks at me and leans down to hand me my present.
I whisper in his ear "I know who you are Santa," and he squeezes my hand gently and whispers back to me "It's our secret Cinderella." And then he gives me a smile as big as Christmas and I give him back a little tiny kiss on his cheek, grab my present, and say "Merry Christmas Santa Claus."
And I feel like my heart will burst I am so full of happiness and love. I want to yell to all my friends "my Daddy is Santa Claus!!!" But there is something in the way he smiles at me that makes me keep it secret. It is a smile that he only gives to me, it is something between us that no one else in the world can have, and so I hold that smile, that secret, that moment, deep inside me. It is magical, and it is all mine.
He is my Christmas.
37 years later, he still is.
Love you Dad.