Holiday Memories is a month long series of heartwarming holiday stories from authors all over the world. We at As the Pages Turn hope you will enjoy and have a happy holiday full of good and happy memories!
The Night I Woke Up to Saint Nick
by Stephen V. Masse
Our family tradition was to arrange the manger scene beneath the live Christmas tree in our living room. My mother had won the manger, and all the figurines were made of white marble, with a shimmering bisque finish. When we set up the manger, my mother would always put the baby Jesus figurine on the mantel, because he was not to be born until Christmas. It was Santa’s privilege to put Jesus in the manger.
I turned ten one week before Christmas. I could still taste the spicy ribbon candy that left our hands sticky, feel the pine against my face as I joined my four siblings in decorating the tree and setting up the manger. My father cut branches to reshape the tree, and the extras ended up in a crackling fire.
Christmas Eve in our family was a feast as close to heaven as one can find on earth, and I wish that every soul could experience something like it. Music from every corner of the world, from Italy to England, Russia, Spain and beyond! Our version of the traditional Italian fish feast began with stuffed calamari in a light tomato sauce over capellini pasta, then fried shrimp, smelts and eels that my father cooked diligently in olive oil, sampling with his glass of wine. Mom tended the oven, crammed with baked-stuffed shrimp, stuffed escarole, stuffed artichokes, and roasted chestnuts, all while fielding phone calls and directing traffic to and from the dining room.
In those days, our Jewish neighbors would drop in, and we would share stories and food, and they would give each of us kids an envelope. Mrs. LeBovidge had the most wonderful Austrian accent. She grew up in Vienna, and told us that her father used to get a tree during the holidays because he enjoyed the tradition. She said that during Hitler’s rise to power, troopers came to inspect the building. The non-Jewish neighbors took her and other Jewish children into their homes to protect them. But in the end, she and her sister had to flee. It reminded me of Joseph and Mary fleeing into Egypt to escape Herod.
After dinner we retired with dessert to the living room, fire blazing, Mom at the old upright piano as we sang Christmas carols and hung our stockings on the mantel.
I woke up in the middle of the night to hear footsteps on the carpeted living room floor. My heart was pounding, mostly with the realization that for the first time in my whole childhood, I was wide awake while Santa Claus was in my house! There was no rustling of packages, only the footsteps.
I didn’t dare move, for respect of the Saint’s presence. Then I heard the unmistakable sound of the marble figurine of baby Jesus being drawn across the mantel. A few more footsteps, and then the sound of baby Jesus being placed in the wooden manger with Mary and Joseph, and with us.
Stephen V. Masse is author of A Jolly Good Fellow, winner of a Silver Medal in the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards, as well as honorable mention in the 2008 New England Book Festival for best books of the holiday season.
Masse’s next book for children, Short Circus, is being released this winter.