article-2078077-0F439B5E00000578-392_634x286‘Twas the night before Christmas and I was nine years old,
settled deep in my blankets, shielded from the cold…

All I wanted that year for Christmas was a round, yellow, handheld Pacman game. Handheld games were new and I salivated at the notion I hold my favorite game in the palm of my hand and play it on-demand. It would be a dream come true for a small, quiet brown-skinned girl with a competitive heart, but not enough quarters for the bowling alley video arcade.

On that Christmas Eve, my parents hustled my younger brother, sister and me to bed and warned us to stay put until they came to get us the next morning. “If you come out,” warned my mother, “Santa might see you and throw pepper in your eyes. And, He won’t leave you any toys.” (Anyone else get threatened with the “old pepper in eyes” line?)

As our bedroom door clicked shut for the endless night, I began the task of forcing myself to sleep. After all, I prayed to God for weeks before that He would tell Santa to bring me that PacMan game. My childhood theology dictated that Santa would do anything that God told him to do.

The night dripped along and I was wide awake. I tried to sleep. My parents were having a grand ‘ole time out in our living room. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but grand times were happening right outside our door. Then, there was a knock at our front door and a voice entered proclaiming: “HO-HO-HO! Merrrr-rrry Christmas!” It was Santa!

Oh no! Of all the little kids on the planet, I believed that Santa had just showed up at my house – err, apartment. And we didn’t even have a fireplace! Santa just walked through our front door. I remember thinking it was my fault because I invited Santa to come over a few weeks before at KMart when we where getting our pictures taken with him. I really wanted that game.

Now, Santa was in MY living room. And unfortunately, I was wide awake. Then, I heard a deep, bellowing voice say: “I wonder if those Neal children are asleep?” I kid you not.

Santa’s footsteps were coming down the hallway to my room and I was still awake. My little heart beat so loudly in my chest, I thought Santa could hear it. Not only was I going to get pepper tossed in my eyes, he was going to take my beloved PacMan game and give it to some other kid.

The doorknob started to turn, so I did the only thing I could – I screwed my eyes shut and pretended to be asleep. As the door swished open across the carpet, I could sense the light streaming across my face as Santa stepped in. I willed my body to lay stark still.

Santa’s footsteps crunched across the carpet toward my bunk bed. My 6-year old sister was sound asleep on the bottom and I was faux-asleep on the top. This must have made it easier for Santa to see my not-so-sound-asleep face. I should have won an Emmy Award for that acting job – and I don’t know how Santa kept from laughing.

After a few interminable moments, I heard Santa step away and our door closed again. I nearly cried with relief. I didn’t care that I had a chance to see Santa. I was just thrilled that my eyes weren’t burning from pepper. Hope still abound that I just might have fooled Santa enough to get that handheld game.

A few moments later, I heard Santa and my parents laughing and talking in the living room. Eventually, I fell asleep from exhaustion, but not before I heard the glorious sound of my parents playing a PacMan video game. My Smallbrownbarbie heart soared as I drifted off…

To this day, I still don’t know who was Santa. I could ask my parents and they would tell me, but I really don’t ever want to know. There are some memories that should just be allowed to remain untouched and this is blessedly one of them.

Now it’s your turn to share! What’s your favorite childhood Christmas memory?

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