A Christmas Memory: When Santa and Toys Were Still Real

We live on the third floor of an apartment building. The steps in the stairwell are made of stone. We’ll hear him when he climbs up. It’s almost dark and my brother, sister and I are waiting. Anticipation. Something wonderful is about to happen.

This morning, I could finally open the biggest door on my Advent Calendar, the one with the number 24 on it. Inside was a picture of the manger. It was here: Christmas Eve. Mom and dad spent a long time in our living room. They decorated the Christmas tree with hundreds of little white paper stars. We worked all week on them, but we aren’t allowed to see the tree until he comes.

Everything is ready. There is an unfamiliar feeling in my stomach as I hear the heavy boots echo up the stairs. Almost there. The knock is loud and powerful. My dad opens the door. “Merry Christmas,” Santa says, “I am looking for Peter, Antje and Ute.” That’s us! “You found them,” my mom replies, “come on in.” He is tall and very old. His dark brown coat touches the floor and his beard is not much shorter. He carries a giant brown sack that’s tied together with a rope. My mom pulls the big silver key out of her apron’s pocket and unlocks the living room door. The only light inside comes from the tree. Its real candles flicker quietly, it looks so beautiful. Santa sits down in dad’s big armchair and motions us to find a spot before him on the floor. “Do you have a song for me?” he asks. “We can sing O, Tannenbaum,” my sister suggests.

Peter explains that he doesn’t sing, but only whistles. “Well, that’s good enough for me,” Santa laughs. We sing all three verses, while my brother whistles along. “Wundervoll,” Santa praises us. Now he opens the sack and pulls out the big book. It covers his entire lap. “Well, let’s see how you did this year.” I watch him browse through the pages. His pointer goes up and down as he searches for our names. “A-N-T-J-E.” My sister sits up straight. “It says in here that you have very good grades. Excellent! Oh, but sometimes you don’t want to help dry the dishes. Hm. Do you promise to keep up your grades and do better with the chores?” My sister nods and looks at my mother. Mom assures Santa that she will. He smiles and starts browsing again. “P-E-T-E-R.” My brother just stares at the tree. “Peter” he says, “you, too, have good grades. I am happy to read this. Oh, but you complain when you have to bring up a pail of potatoes from the cellar?” My brother says “But only sometimes!” Santa strokes his beard and responds “Well, try to do less times!” My brother sighs and stares at the tree again. “U-T-E.” It’s my turn. What if I’m not in there? “Ah, there you are!” He looks at me through his round glasses and he smiles. “It says that you have been very kind to everyone. I like that. Keep up the good work!” That was it. I was good! Now he digs through the sack and pulls out a present for Peter and one for Antje. Finally, he finds one with my name on it. Piece by piece, I tear the wrapping paper away. I believe that it is a Schnauzer, just like the one I wanted! And there he is, yes! Big and black with red wooden wheels on his feet. He has brown eyes and a real dog collar. I am so happy. My very own dog. The landlord can’t tell us to give that one away. I love Santa and I love Christmas. I just want to sit here and hold this beautiful pet, because it only belongs to me!

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