One Christmas Eve when I was eight years old, our family was gathered at our grandparents’ house to eat our traditional Polish vigil meatless meal.
Carolyn Takach, of Williamsville
We were singing songs in the living room when we heard jingling bells outside coming closer, then heavy footsteps on the porch and, finally, loud knocking at the front door. My younger brother Paul and I were alarmed. Aunt Emily opened the door and there stood – Santa Claus!
Grandpa invited him in, whereupon he put down his bag and scanned the room. I immediately spotted a black strap hanging from his belt. He spoke to the adults in Polish and asked them if we had been good children. They said yes – most of the time. He decided to test us. He detached the strap and slapped it against his leg.
I had to kneel down in the center of the room. It became very quiet. He spoke to me in English and asked me if I knew my prayers; I nodded yes, so he told me to say them in Polish. I said the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Apostles’ Creed. Then Paul had to kneel down and say the prayer to the guardian angel, in English. Santa Claus paced, back and forth, snapping the strap against his leg the whole time. He asked us if we did our homework, always did our best and obeyed our parents. We said yes to everything. Satisfied, he dropped the strap, reached into his bag and handed each of us a gift.
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Grandpa offered him some “medicine” to keep him warm. Santa heartily accepted and downed it in one big gulp. He then patted his stomach, laughed and wished us a Merry Christmas. He threw the bag over his shoulder and jingled the bells as he walked out the door. Aunt Emily shouted to him to wait. He stopped; I wasn’t sure I wanted him to come back in, but she called out “You forgot your strap.” and she handed it to him.
I don’t remember what my present was, but I do remember having to say prayers in front of the whole family. They did say they were very proud of me.
Another Christmas Eve, I was quite excited to be allowed to go to Midnight Mass for the first time. It was fun to walk in the dark and hear the snow crunching under our feet.
The church looked magnificent, decorated with fresh pine trees and red poinsettias; the priests were resplendent in gold vestments. The singing of the choir sounded like angels from heaven. It was majestic.
We were lucky enough to have places in the pews while other people stood in the side aisles, all the way up to the altar. I had never seen such a conglomeration of people, sight and sound.
People were dressed in their finest, with many ladies in fur coats – beaver, mink, Persian lamb. I was fascinated to see a fox skin – complete with tail, little head and paws – around a woman’s neck and shoulders.
It became uncomfortably warm, and I was very aware of all the different odors around me – perfume, tobacco, alcohol and other, less identifiable scents. As large as it was, the space was packed with worshippers.
When we stepped out of the church, it felt so good to inhale cold, clean air. It was snowing big, beautiful flakes. Grandma said it was a blessing and a thank-you from above for coming to His celebration. We scurried home to ham sandwiches, coffee and a shot of “medicine.” Then it was off to bed.
Christmas Day had arrived.
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