Pastor in a Santa suit

Published 9:30 pm Monday, December 23, 2019

By Jeffrey Cline

There comes that time in every child’s life when he begins to wonder if Santa Claus is real. For me, it was the Christmas of 1976.

My parents had divorced and had just remarried. We had lived in a big house with three floors, a huge staircase, a fireplace, and a big porch that we decorated each year with lights, big plastic candles and a Santa, a tree in the front window, garland on the banister and stockings on the mantle. We had a fake tree that mom always shaped before decorating. We all had our favorite decoration. My dad loved Christmas music and it always filled the house, to remind us Christmas was near. We wrote letters to Santa, asking him to bring us gifts, promising to leave cookies and milk. Each night, we gathered around the radio waiting for Santa to read our letters. I still remember how I felt when I heard Santa read my letter. I would scream with excitement, “Mom, it’s Ho Ho” as he read. Seeing him in person, telling him what I wanted, made it feel magical.

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But now, there was no big house with the stairs and porch. We lived in a small first-floor apartment. We kids, four at the time, now shared one bedroom. It was small, things were tight, but it was Christmas. However we still decorated with lights, the Santa and candles setting up and decorating our tree, hanging the stocking and of course, listening to the Christmas music.

I had told Santa I wanted a Stretch Armstrong toy. Normally, presents were already under our tree before Christmas, but this year there seemed to be fewer. However, there was hope in my heart that Santa would come. After a TV Christmas special, I sat at my mother’s feet saying our prayers, when something outside caught my eye.

At first, I thought it was a reflection or the plastic Santa moving on the porch. But it was not any of those. It was Santa! I jumped to my feet in disbelief, pressing my face to the window to get a better view. It was him: the dark-red suit, black boots, white beard, and a sack on his back. Santa was here. When he made the turn up our walkway toward our apartment, I am sure you could have heard our screams all the way to the North Pole. “Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas!” We were in awe as he began to call our names, each time pulling a present from his bag. I watched in amazement: He was real! It didn’t matter what others had said. Santa was here. Excitement built as each one opened a gift. When he called my name, I could only nod my head. As he reached his white-glove-covered hands into his sack, it felt as if he moved in slow motion. As he removed a present wrapped in beautiful red-and-green paper and handed it to me, I couldn’t help but think how real he was.

As I ripped into the paper, I began to see the box for a Stretch Armstrong, just what I asked for. Santa even had food for a Christmas meal. There he was, in my house, in front of my tree and stockings, jolly and giving. I believe I saw tears in my mom’s eyes. Santa was here!

While everyone played and talked, I sneaked outside, waiting for Santa to leave. He came out and waved goodbye saying “Merry Christmas!” I followed him. There was no sleigh. Instead, there was a big car that looked familiar. As he began to remove his beard, I almost cried. I focused a little harder to see his face. I couldn’t place it at first, but then when he smiled, I knew who it was. It was our pastor from the little church we attended.

At that moment, something clicked, and I realized the real magic of Christmas. It was the best Christmas ever. You might say Santa is not real, or that he is not the reason for the season, which he is not. As for me, I know Jesus somehow intervened that Christmas in 1976. A little boys’ prayers were answered. I am thankful. And thanks to a pastor in a Santa suit.

I will never forget.


Jeffrey Cline is an Army veteran who has been married 23 years and is the father of three.