Christmas Eve lends an air of magic to the hustle and bustle of holiday happenings. Children nestle down for the night, hoping Santa will bring gifts, while adults tend to concentrate on the positives in people and places.

When my brother and I were in college, our parents began the tradition of hosting a bountiful celebration on Dec. 24 so we could reconnect with family and friends.

What started with a few invitations grew tenfold as relatives, neighbors and high school chums packed our home to sample the catered fare that seemed to taste even more delicious on this most blessed night. This event continued and gained even more significance as my brother and I each married and moved away. As I plucked the November sheet from the calendar, I grew excited just thinking about gathering with friends and family at my childhood home.

One Christmas Eve, satiated with the holiday feast, we snuggled into the living room to sing carols as my uncle played the piano. Snow was gently falling outside, as is common in Ohio, and a glance through the large picture window unveiled a countryside bathed in white. It was nearly midnight when one of our guests who was sitting near the window, jumped up and began waving wildly.“It’s Santa!” he eagerly exclaimed.

We all laughed and applauded his perfectly timed joke. After all, it WAS about time for St. Nick to make his rounds.

“No, really, it IS Santa!” our friend persisted. “I saw him; he’s right outside!”

We all ran to the front door and spilled out onto the lawn to see the iconic jolly one.

“Where?” we asked in unison.

Our friend pointed to a large figure now lumbering across a lawn some two homes away. We strained our eyes to peer through the now rapidly falling crystals, and although the cascading snow somewhat impeded our sight, it was easy to detect a large figure decked in a red coat. His thigh-high black boots enabled his trek across the deepening snow. A mass of white hair was topped with a red cap, and over his shoulder he carried a huge brown bundle. Indeed, he certainly fulfilled the image of Santa Claus.

“Santa! Come back!” we implored. “We believe in you!”

He waved, but did not turn back. Sadly, we finally retreated to the house, willing to forego the Santa search in favor of warmth.

Next morning we spent hours on the phone trying to discover the identity of our midnight visitor. Since all of the neighbors were party guests, our search extended far beyond the immediate area. No luck. In fact, we never learned who peered into our window that Christmas Eve.

The experience, however, inspired my husband to rent a Santa suit for many years, thoroughly enjoying the smiles from the young children he delighted with his visits.

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