Posted by: johnhourihan | November 28, 2012

How I knew there was a Santa Claus


Christmas Eve 1955 was black — black, slippery and laceratingly cold as we four walked from town — and it was the day I learned the truth about Santa Claus.
An afternoon ice storm had coated the town, and the temperature dropped out the bottom as  night fell like a curtain of onyx..
My mother, my two older twin sisters and myself were trekking to my grandmother’s house, a frozen mile from the light and bustle of Main Street shopping.
The sidewalks were like intersecting bobsled chutes with snow bolsters iced smooth on the sides. After I had fallen for the third time, my mother finally gave up and said “OK, we’re walking in the road.”
The sanded street had traction, but it also had cars, big ‘51 Packards lumbering out of the night with glaring headlamps and tire chains that announced their arrival. Each time we heard the rhythmic clinking, my mother sheep-dogged us to the side and stood as big as she could in front of us.
Once away from Main Street’s lights, we passed through the darkness and the smell of oak and smoke, arriving at the home of the towering Rose Brigette O’Flynn Hourihan, herself, for our annual dose of what Christmas really meant.
My grandmother was a most unique woman — an Irish realist.
The walkway to the stairs was short, but the hedges lining it towered over us and glistened like a kalaidascope, their ice coating twinkling all the colors of the neighbors’ holiday lights. The huge wooden door opened, and a rush of warmth engulfed us and cuddled us inside.
At the end of the hall stood herself, waiting.
My mother nudged us along past the statue of the Blessed Virgin with the constantly refilled holy water fountain, past the cross of Easter palms, the vase of lilies and the red glass candle holder, and directly toward the full-sized color oil painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that looked at you no matter where you walked. Just before Jesus, we took a left into the kitchen.
We sat at the round wooden table with the doily in the center, folded our hands and waited to be spoken to.
“Are you excited?” she asked.
We nodded, seen but not heard.
“Why?”
Nancy was the courageous one: “Santa Claus is coming tonight,” she said. I wonder even today if she knew this was the exact wrong thing to say at that particular time.
The presence of Rose Hourihan struck the fear of God into nuns, and made priests cower with her admonishments that they showed “a sure lack of piety.”
We knew we were about to hear how this was “not about presents” but about “the birth of Jesus Christ,”  and how, if we couldn’t understand that, it would be “the back o’ me hand to ya.”
She leaned, palms against the edge of the table, and was about to speak, when my mother said gently, “Rose, it is Christmas, and they are children.” It seemed my mother was the only person in the world, or at least the diocese, who wasn’t afraid of Rose Hourihan herself.
The grey-haired protector of the faith did something then that I had never seen her do. She went into the living room and returned with her prized candy dish. The one we were not to touch unless we were told to. She placed it in the center on the doily and said, “Go ahead, eat. I want to tell you something about a boy who was born around this time.”
Here it comes.
“1,700 years ago.”
We looked at each other in disbelief. Seventeen hundred years? That was wrong.
“He was born in Turkey of very rich parents. Christians they were, and raised him up to serve the Lord, but they were taken sick and died, leaving him alone, but rich, at a very tender age.”
She continued, “The little boy shared his wealth. He began to help the poor and the hungry children, and for his efforts he was made a bishop while he was still a child. He built an orphanage, a hospital and a place for the elderly to be taken care of.”
She pushed the candy dish across, “Go ahead, eat some more,” she said.
“You know this boy,” she asserted.
We looked at each other confused.
“His name was Nicholas. You call him Santa Claus, and this time every year he is allowed to come back to life, by the grace of the Almighty, to teach us all how to give to each other, and charity prevails over all the negativity of the year. But you have to believe.” She winked at my mother.
“There are presents for you at the back door, and I’ve called a cab to take you home. You’ll have to hurry and get to sleep so Saint Nicholas can come.”
We were silent on the way home. I had had my doubts, and my older sisters were fairly entrenched in the belief there may not even be a Santa Claus, but to hear Rose Brigette O’Flynn Hourihan herself tell his story convinced us all.
One thing we knew for sure.
Grandmother never lied.
The truth is, there is a Santa Claus.

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Responses

  1. I’m sure GRANDMA HOURIHAN read this, and in the same voice she used that night said “FINALLY!”

  2. I love love love this story!

    • Thank you Sue

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