It was a well-known maxim around my house, repeated in the days leading up to Christmas: NEVER try to watch Santa Claus perform magic.

It’s the rule. If you saw, his secrets would be let out, and that would be a disaster. It’s why he doesn’t do any Santa elf magic in his little house at the shopping mall, or when he shows up at the American Legion, or when he’s on the fire truck in the Christmas parade.

That no watching rule was most critical on Christmas Eve, especially when Santa’s in the house delivering toys because he’ll know if you saw him, and he’ll take all your toys away back to the North Pole…and he’ll probably take the toys of your brothers and sisters too. It happened a few years back to some kid in Cleveland. It was on the news.

It was this rule, firmly memorized by the time I was eight, that nearly ruined Christmas that year.

On Christmas eve, not long after I had been tucked in and kissed goodnight, I woke to a lot of banging noises coming from the attic. All that clatter. I got out of bed and started to go see what’s the matter, but then I remembered the rule and pulled my hand away from the door handle like it was on fire. That clatter might have been Santa up on our roof. Even in the house! I wasn’t taking any chances. Not with that awesome Tyco four-lane slot car track, an Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, and a Spirograph on the line. I knew the rule.

When I looked out my window, I realized Santa hadn’t arrived at my house yet because I saw to my amazement through my frost-covered, a dim red Christmas light blink once in the foggy night sky. I knew in an instant that that blinking light was Rudolph’s red nose lighting Santa’s way. I couldn’t make out Santa, or the sleigh or anything else because of the thick fog, but there was no mistaking that nose on the most famous reindeer of all. He was guiding the sleigh on a foggy night…just like in the song!

That nose blink was no more than a few miles from my window.

I stood there awestruck for a second. The real Santa flying through the air in my hometown. He was close. I saw his nose blink a second time and it seemed even closer. Maybe only a mile away. He’s ON HIS WAY HERE.

Oh no. Oh the horror.

Like in a nightmare, my blood froze, my eyes went wide, and I let out a little cry as I realized what I was doing by just standing there looking out the window. I was watching Santa do magic. I was breaking the rule.

Nooooo! I’m dead. Worse than dead…alive with no toys! No high-speed Tyco electric racing action. No Evel Knievel ramping high over my sister’s prone Barbie dolls. No dazzling psychedelic geometric designs in multi-colored ink. It was all gone. My brother and sister would be furious at me for my gaffe.

Maybe he didn’t see me. It was my only chance.

I jumped back in bed, covered my head, and squeezed my eyes shut. Tears trickled down my face. I didn’t breathe for five whole minutes. My heart pounded in my ears and I whispered to myself, “He knows. He knows. He knows.”
He knows that I’m not sleeping
He knows that I’m awake.
He knows that I’ve been breaking that one unbreakable rule
for goodness’s sake!

Please, please, please. It was an accident. I didn’t do it on purpose. I was good this year…

After what seemed an agonizing eternity, sleep must have taken me because the next thing I know my little sister is yelling in my ear, “Get up, get up, get up! It’s Christmas!!!

We had another Christmas rule. No kid could go down the stairs until all kids were up and dressed, assembled at the top of the stairs like a bunch of racehorses bucking in the gates. Normally, I’d be already at the top of the stair. I slept in my Christmas clothes every Christmas Eve, so I didn’t have to waste time getting dressed in the morning.

But that Christmas morning, I didn’t want to get up. I ruined everything. I broke the one lousy rule that you can’t break on Christmas Eve. They’re going to hate me.

A groan was all I could muster. I pulled the blankets over my head.

“We can’t go down until you get up! Get up, get up, get up!” Instantly frustrated with me, my little sister darted down the hall and told mom that I wasn’t getting up. Mom came into my room and asked me if I was sick. She pulled back the covers and checked my forehead for fever. I didn’t want to talk about it, but my sister was having a conniption fit in the hallway.
“I’m not sick. I broke the rule. I saw Rudolph last night, right out my window. Santa was flying. I saw him doing magic. I broke the rule. There’s no toys down there for me, everyone else can go down”, I choked out, trying not to cry.

“Well, he must not have seen you, because there’s a lot of toys downstairs and some are for you. I already checked”, said my mom.

What??? Joy O’ Joy! It’s a Christmas Miracle!!

I leapt from my bed and took my spot at the top of the stairs. It was a great Christmas. They were all great Christmases back then. I got the slot car track!

I retold the story of how I narrowly escaped Christmas purgatory to anyone that would listen over the next few days. I got a lot of doubtful responses that went something like, “You saw Rudolph, hmmm? That’s amaaazing”. Nobody could believe how lucky I was to see something that magical.

“Yeah. Right”, said my brother…drawing a glance from my mom. Even my little sister, who later proved to be a little more informed about Santa and magic and rules than I, thought my claims of seeing the real Rudolph in flight above the skies of our hometown a tall tale. She rolled her eyes at me.

I didn’t care. I knew what I saw. I didn’t dream that. Besides, what else could have been flying that low across my foggy hometown on Christmas Eve? That blinking light was definitely way too low to be an airplane’s light.

After a few months, the memory of that night faded. It wasn’t until I moved back home from college, and I found myself spending yet another Christmas Eve. My sister reminded of my tall-tale from when I was eight. As I retired for the night, once again in my childhood bedroom, my memory of that terror filled Christmas Eve flooded back. I got up out of bed and once again I peered out the window, for old time’s sake, hoping to see Rudolph once again.

I didn’t care if I didn’t get a toy…I wanted to see the magic!

Much to my chagrin, I didn’t see Rudolph. It wasn’t even foggy. All I saw was a couple of blinking red safety lights on the big smokestack down at the mill, warning planes to steer clear. It was just a mile or so from my bedroom window.

It wasn’t a night for magic.

Maybe it was a magical night, and I just couldn’t see the magic like I could when I was eight.