A figure in the misty, snowy night

A figure in the misty, snowy night

‘Everybody rushed to the windows. They saw a tall figure in a long red robe, a little red hat on his head, carrying a lantern, and walking slowly by the side of the house.’

PUTNEY — So the story starts in Englewood, N.J. in 1980, and it was at Christmas time.

My husband, Ken, and I came down from Putney. My sister Sally, and her husband, Billy, came down from Barre with their little boy, Ryan. My sister Barbara, who lived in Brattleboro, came down with her partner, David, and her two girls.

We all traveled down to New Jersey to be together in my parents' house, the house that we all grew up in (and also the house my mother grew up in) to celebrate Christmas together.

And we knew this was going to be a special Christmas, because Ryan had been very sick for a long time, and we knew this was going to be his last Christmas. So we were doing our best to make it cheerful and special for everyone.

On Christmas Eve, there'd been a nice snowfall. Everything was covered with snow, and we were in a good mood.

Sally invited us to come upstairs and help her get Ryan ready for bed. So we all came up to her old bedroom, and he was standing there on this wide windowsill as she was pulling him into his pajamas.

All of a sudden, Sally, who was looking outside, said, “Ry-guy! Turn around and look out the window - someone's out there.”

Ryan turned around and froze. And stared.

He was seeing the snowy driveway and lawn. He was seeing two big cone-shaped evergreens wrapped in these big, old-fashioned green-blue lights that were showing through a nice blanket of snow that had fallen.

And between those two trees, a figure was walking, wearing a big, long red coat and a red cap with a little white ball in the end, with a big beard, carrying a lantern.

This figure turned around, looked up at the window, and waved to Ryan.

The figure turned back around slowly and started walking out down the lawn, disappearing into the misty, snowy night.

Ryan just stood there and watched. And then, all of a sudden, he turned around and started jumping up and down. He was so excited.

“Christmastime! Christmastime! Christmastime!” he said. And we all laughed and cheered him on. It was so great.

* * *

A year later, Ryan was no longer with us. Ken and I had just gotten the best Christmas present ever: our little baby, Hannah, who was born Dec. 20. Of course, we were in no shape to go anywhere at Christmas that year, so we had the pleasure of deciding to stay home and enjoy the holiday in Vermont, which, as you all know, is a wonderful place to be at this time of year.

So we went out and picked two scraggly old pine trees and wired them together. And then we put real Christmas lights on them: Christmas candles that we would light - a tradition that our neighbor, Belle Hegemann, had introduced us to when we first moved into our house.

That really was a special Christmas.

* * *

A few years later, after Ken and I had finally recovered from the shock and exhaustion of being parents, I asked him, “Wouldn't it be fun to have a Christmas Eve party and invite Barbara's family and our friends who have kids now and have a bunch of desserts and sing carols and light the candles on the tree? Wouldn't that be fun?”

Ken's not quite as enthusiastic about parties as I am. But he came around, so that's what we planned to do.

On the morning of Christmas Eve, another beautiful snow had fallen. I had really gone into gear, baking nut puffs and pecan logs and linzer torte - all sorts of things that I should have been making weeks before, but I hadn't.

Ken got out his big, big pottery bowl and filled it with his killer eggnog, which had all sorts of rich things in it and mounds of whipped cream floating on top. We decorated the house with greens and made it smell really good. We had a pot of mulled cider steaming on the wood stove and another scraggly Christmas tree decorated with real candles, ready to light. And it just felt great.

Then, our wonderful friends started arriving and brought more food. After people nibbled and enjoyed all the delicious sweets, I herded everybody into the piano room in the front of the house so we could start singing some Christmas carols.

We were having a great time. But I had to say, I was a little distracted, and I kept kind of glancing out the window.

And then ... I saw a light moving around from the front window to the side window. I said, “Hey - go look out the windows, there's somebody out there.”

Everybody rushed to the windows. They saw a tall figure in a long red robe, a little red hat on his head, carrying a lantern, and walking slowly by the side of the house. There was an audible gasp in the room. Jaws literally dropped, young and old alike.

This figure walked through this misty night, through to the back of the house, beyond the barn, and up the little rise. And I said to the kids, “Let's go upstairs quick and look at the back windows so we could see where he was going.”

And we ran upstairs and we threw open not the sash, but the window. We yelled, “Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas.”

He turned around. He looked at us and he said, “Merry Christmas to you, too.”

And then he turned around and walked off beyond the garden, into the field, into the mist, and disappeared.

One of the little kids next to me said, “Look, I can see the reindeer and the sleigh taking off into the sky.”

It was really magical for everyone.

* * *

So, of course, we had to keep doing our Christmas party every year after that. And every year, Santa would arrive and make his silent passage past the house, so it came to be something that everybody expected and looked forward to.

And it was great. The kids who were there were absolutely the biggest defenders of the existence of Santa Claus, arguing to their friends that they knew he was real because they saw him with their own two eyes. The adults really liked it, too.

Though I have to say that, once it was expected, the miracle, the magic, wasn't quite as amazing.

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