It was two days before Christmas and the excitement was rising. My brother and I spent our time sneaking around looking for hidden presents with no luck as usual. Our parents always hid them well and we were into our teens before our annual hunt yielded one of their hiding places. I was nine that year and even though I’d discovered that Santa Claus wasn’t real over the course of that year I spoke and acted as if I still believed. I wasn’t quite ready to let anyone know that I knew. There was a tiny fear in my heart that as soon as I admitted it to anyone the magic would stop.
So I carried on as usual. My brother and I pretended we were elves, reindeer, faeries and angels. Cookies covered in red and green frosting magically appeared in the cookie jar, ribbon candy piled high in bowls on the coffee table and hot cocoa becoming a staple at the breakfast table. Christmas was coming and we were ready for all its magic and wonder even if one of us didn’t believe in its most important mascot.
There was also another tiny fear growing within me. If my younger brother stopped believing I feared a darkness would settle on the holiday and no amount of sparkly lights, colorful decorations or endless holiday music piping from the stereo would turn the light of it back on. I set about that day before Christmas Eve to ensure his continued belief in the jolly old man.
My mother’s sewing area was a young artists playground. Hours were spent leaning on the end of her sewing machine watching her create seemingly from nothing the clothes my siblings and I would wear. Buttons, bows, threads of every imaginable color, beads and trinkets were tucked into drawers, jars and boxes. It was in one of those containers I had found the tools I needed to accomplish the deed that would help my brother continue to live the Santa Claus dream. I had seen them one day when my mom was looking for some buttons in the big button jar. She turned it around, tipped it on its side and dumped some of the disks into her hand but couldn’t find what she was looking for. So she took the jar, me trailing behind, into the kitchen, pulled a large bowl from the cabinet and spilled all the baubles into it. There they were dancing among all the button and what not, five little silver jingle bells singing their jingle bell songs. My eyes nearly fell into the bowl with them. I reached in and picked one up. It was cool and smooth and when I let it slide off my hand it sang its song all the way back into the bowl. One by one I began picking them out of the bowl while mom searched for her buttons. Then she said, “Here, let me help you,” found the last few bells and handed them to me. They were now mine. She said so.
Now on the day before Christmas Eve I searched through my sock drawer where I had the bells safely hidden in a white ankle sock. Ribbon wasn’t hard to find in our house this time of year so I cut a length of red from a spool and began the work of tying the bells onto it. When I finished the whole thing went back into the sock and under my pillow to await their performance the next night.
At the ages of eight (my brother) and nine (myself) we still shared a bedroom. We slept on bunk beds, he on the top and I on the bottom (because I had a habit of sleep walking) but there were many nights when my brother ended up in my bed usually because of a bad dream. He seemed to have a lot of them. Sometimes we simply didn’t want to sleep yet and he’d come down where we’d talk and make each other laugh or secret toys into the bed and play under the covers. The night before Christmas was always one of these nights. What child can sleep on Christmas Eve?!As he climbed into my bed with his stuffed bunny rabbit I reached my hand under the pillow where the bell bedecked ribbon lay now out of its sock and ready for action. I was so excited that I was giggling at every word that came out of my brother’s mouth giving him incentive to continue talking and making funny noises (his specialty) giving me time to begin putting my plan into motion.
Carefully I gathered the ribbon into my hand and slowly lowered my fisted hand over the walled side of the bed. My brother was wiggling and squirming and making snake and cat noises giving me the opportunity to unroll the ribbon without worrying about the bells making sound. And there my hand stayed for what seemed like hours until he finally calmed down and began showing signs of tiredness.
The room was completely quiet. The house was completely quiet. I could see the soft colors from the Christmas tree lights slipping around the corners of our opened bedroom door. I looked out the window and saw it was snowing big fat flakes glittering in the light of the street lamp. There was magic in the air. I could feel it just as certain as my brother’s cold feet on my leg.
I jingled the bells.
I jingled again.
He snuggled closer and his brown eyes became saucers. He opened his mouth and nothing came out. That in itself was an act of magic.
I jingled again.
“What was that?” I asked
“Dunno.” He answered.
I jingled again.
He whispered into my face, ”Santa Claus!”
He jumped out of the bed and ran to the window. I quickly tucked the bells back under my pillow. I convinced him to come back to bed before Santa saw him awake and didn’t leave us anything. He jumped back into bed, curled up into a ball completely under the covers informing me he was scared and was going to sleep now.
I fell asleep with a smile on my face. I had made magic happen.
Christmas morning was – well – Christmas morning, crazy, wild and wonderful! When things settled down I was sitting on the floor next to the tree with my new doll admiring the pretty decorations when something very familiar caught my eye. There hanging among the shiny balls and glowing lights was a red ribbon with five little silver jingle bells tied to it.
I ran to my bed, tore the pillow off, then the blankets. I crawled under the bed searching through the dust and toys. I pulled everything out from under the bed to get a better look. Then I ripped the sheet off and pulled the top of the mattress up to peer under it.
It wasn’t there.
It was on the tree.
To this day the sound of tinkling jingle bells sends a shiver up my spine – in a good way.