The following took place around Christmas, 1990. I was 8 years old.
After struggling to fall asleep on Christmas Eve, eager to discover Santa’s bounty, I was woken by an unmistakable sound. It took a while to convince myself that I wasn’t dreaming, but the sound seemed to be coming from above me and outside the window. Sleigh bells. Consistent and continuous, like the sound of a Salvation Army volunteer. My understanding of Santa and his transportation of choice gave me the impression that it must be coming from the reindeer on his sleigh.
I grew up with dogs, and I knew the sound their collars made. It wasn’t consistent and continuous, it was random and based on their movement. The reindeer would have to be shaking their heads or bodies like the Salvation Army volunteer’s hand to be making this sound, and no animal I had ever seen was that well trained. Even if Santa had trained them, the sound continued for quite a while. How could Santa make it to every house in the world if he just let his reindeer stand on my roof shaking their heads? I don’t remember the bells stopping, but eventually I fell back asleep.
In the morning there was the usual and joyous Christmas celebration, the discovery of stockings and unwrapping of presents, and I briefly forgot about the sleigh bells. However, one present concerned me: a child-sized plastic house (somewhat like this one). It was an excellent plastic house, but what concerned me was its relative size compared to our chimney. It was my understanding that Santa used the chimney to deliver our presents. The plastic walls were too big to even fit through the fireplace opening, let alone the chimney. It was possible that Santa came through the front or back door, but he would likely have set off our burgler alarm and woken us all up. I imagined all sorts of possible rolling or folding techniques for the plastic walls, but all of them seemed impossible without causing damage.
Several days later, sitting at the dining table with my mom finishing some math homework, I decided to vent my frustrations about the plastic walls and the chimney. I explained to her how I didn’t think it was possible for Santa to squeeze the walls through the chimney, but also that every other explanation I came up with didn’t make sense either. Just before I started to wade into the sleigh bell issue, she stopped me.
“Sam, do you want to know how Santa did all that?”
I knew there was something going on that I didn’t understand, and I wanted more than anything in the world to know what it was.
“Well, Santa is this wonderful thing that parents do during Christmas …”
As she explained, I became very quiet. The world had shifted in an instant. Basic axioms of existence were thrown out the window. Past experiences reanalyzed. And it made sense. It made so much sense. I had walked up to the door of enlightenment without even guessing it could be opened, and it remains one of the most bewildering and exhilarating moments of “A-ha!” I have ever experienced.
That said, I still have no damn idea where the sleigh bells came from.