I will never forget the time I saw Santa Claus. I'm not talking about at the mall or in a parade. I saw him in my own house with my own eyes when I was about 5 years old.
I remember hearing a man's voice and some movements downstairs and waking up, groggy. Santa is here! I crept out of my bedroom and sat at the top of the steps, peeking down into our living room. I still remember covering my mouth with my hands because I couldn't help the gasp that escaped my lips when I saw that he was really real. I remember being frozen in place and watching wide-eyed as a man in red pants mumbled to himself, pacing back and forth to our tree and then out of sight again.
From my vantage point, I could not see above his waist, and honestly, I didn't want to. I couldn't risk having him see me and knowing I was out of bed. Surely, I was breaking all the rules by watching, and if he saw me seeing him it would cause some sort of glitch in the Santa Matrix. If he stooped to drop a present, I would duck behind the wall. I was very, very careful to avoid being seen, which meant I never saw his face. I only saw bright red pants and white socks. Santa takes off his boots in other people's houses. That's very considerate and Santa-y, don't you think?
I snuck back into bed, the illicit and magical memory ingrained in me forever.
In the morning I felt so guilty that I told my parents I had seen the man putting the gifts under the tree. They exchanged a somber look that I didn't understand. Maybe I really did break the Matrix? But, no, the presents were still here, so that couldn't be true.
"Let's not tell your sister. We want Christmas to still be magic for her."
"Why can't I tell Charlotte? I SAW SANTA! I saw his red pants. He was right here in our living room!"
"Oh! You saw his red pants? And that is how you know he was Santa?"
"Yes!" Geez, grown-ups could be dumb.
As the years went by, the faith of my friends and siblings started to fade, but I kept on believing. Well into my double-digit years, I was still insisting, "I saw him! I really did. Honestly." Any doubting children could be sent straight to me, my convictions were honest and believable because they were true. I really did see what I saw. So what if I was 11 or 12? I had seen and I believed.
It wasn't until a few years down the road when a tiny inkling of a different possibility crossed my mind.
I came upon a family photo album and mixed in among pictures from that very same Christmas were candid shots from my childhood. My sister and me eating Oatmeal Creme Pies and playing with Barbies. Terrible hair styles and worse clothing choices. It was the '80s, after all.
And then there was my father, rocking a pair of red sweat pants that seemed vaguely familiar.
It couldn't be, could it?
All I know is that when I was 5 years old I really did see a magical man in red pants putting presents under my Christmas tree.
And if you are ever questioning what to wear this holiday season, red sweat pants are the safest possible choice. They just might preserve a childhood for several years to come.