Yes, Elizabethton, there is a Santa Claus

Published 11:04 am Friday, December 23, 2022

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Recently, my wife’s friend came over to pick up a Christmas tree we were giving away. Her eight-year-old son was with her, and in making small talk I asked him if he had made his list for Santa Claus yet. After he offered a few carefully thought-out reasons for the unlikely existence of the jolly gift giver it was soon apparent that this young man was now a skeptic. I quickly responded with the fact that I had certainly made out my list as had my wife, and with a surprised look he simply replied, “Really!” He seemed shocked that two people in their late 30s, ancient to him I’m sure, could believe in such an irrational notion. I told him that I too was once a doubter but no longer. To back up my belief I shared this story with him.
It was Christmas Eve, 2013. I still lived at home with my parents and after we had made our rounds to the various family gatherings we settled in for a quite evening at home. We decided to go ahead and open our gifts to one another, and I particularly remember the gift my dad had made for me. It was a cedar shadowbox containing his old tobacco knife, spear, and a hand tied “hand” of tobacco. The old tobacco farmers will know that term. My affinity for antique tools, family history, and handmade gifts made it the perfect Christmas present.
It was getting late, so I propped my shadowbox up by the Christmas tree and went to bed. I fell asleep instantly. In the middle of the night, I was awakened by a massive thud that seemed to shake the entire house. I shot out of bed and looked at the clock. It was exactly 3 a.m. Mom and dad must have been sleeping more soundly than me as they did not get up. I made a thorough search of the house and found nothing out of the ordinary. Then, I happened to think about my shadowbox. What if it had fallen over and was broken? I went to the Christmas tree and, much to my relief, it was in the same spot where I had placed it earlier. Still shaken and puzzled I decided to go back to bed after finding no noticeable reason for the crash.
Christmas morning came and, to our surprise, a light coating of snow had fallen in the night. Despite the warmer temperatures earlier that week, we ended up with a white Christmas after all. As dad was taking out the garbage his sister, who was caring for my grandmother at the time, called out to him from Grandma’s house next door. A few minutes later dad came back in and said, “You’ve got to see this!” I quickly put on my coat and shoes, and we walked up to Grandma’s front porch.
My aunt told us sometime in the night she was startled out of a sound sleep by a huge crash and all kinds of commotion on the porch. She was convinced someone was trying to break down the door. Thankfully nothing happened and the uproar was over in a matter of seconds. Upon closer inspection my grandmother’s metal sofa glider had been shoved up against the house and there were scratch marks on the floor planks from one end of the porch to the other. I asked my aunt what time all this happened, and she remembered clearly that it was exactly 3 a.m.
As dad and his sister stood on the porch scratching their heads, I decided to look in the yard for further clues. Sure enough there, in the new-fallen snow, were deer tracks leading up to the porch. I backtracked the hoofprints to see where the deer had entered the yard and that’s when I realized something was very strange indeed. The tracks simply began in the snow about 20 feet from the left side of Grandma’s porch. No tracks leading up to them, they just started out of nowhere! I went to the right side of the porch and discovered the same thing. This time the hoofprints were leading away from the porch. I followed them out, again about 20 feet, and they ended. Realizing that deer can jump long distances I made it a point to look further out, but no tracks were found anywhere!
Now, I started scratching my head. As my dad, my aunt, and I stood there puzzling in the snow that Christmas morning, I could come up with only one explanation…Santa Claus! The way I figure it, as Santa was flying over our neighborhood, it seems that one of his reindeer became unhitched from the sleigh and landed in Grandma’s front yard. It then ran up on the porch, lost its footing, and slammed into the sofa glider pushing it up against the house which caused the loud crash that woke up my aunt. The scratch marks across the length of the porch must have been caused by the reindeer’s hooves as it struggled to get a grip on the slick floorboards. After exiting the right side of the porch, it ran out into the yard a few feet, launched skyward, and reunited with Santa and the other reindeer on my roof which must have been the house-shaking thud that woke me up. Logical, right? I certainly think so.
As I finished the story my young friend’s eyes were as wide as saucers. He asked, and rightly so, “Is that a true story?” I told him it was absolutely the truth and that my explanation was the most reasonable conclusion I could come to. The following day my wife’s friend told her that was all her son talked about during the ride home, and he spent the rest of the day Google searching Santa sightings. Hopefully the magic will continue with him for a few more years at least.
Personally, I think my story is a pretty good defense for the physical existence of Santa Claus or at least flying reindeer, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on my experience of the Christmas of 2013. Nevertheless, I can offer and even better case that the spirit of Santa Claus is alive and well.
A close friend of mine recently participated in the annual “Shop with a Cop” program where Wal-Mart teams up with local law enforcement officers to give deserving children the kind of Christmas they would not have had otherwise. The officers help the kids pick out a good balance of necessities and of course a few fun things as well. My friend said as they began to shop it quickly became apparent that the 11-year-old young man he was paired with was much more interested in picking out things for others instead of himself. House shoes for his mom, a racecar set and some beef jerky for his dad, and Legos and games for his cousins and siblings. He even wanted my friend to pick out his favorite snack. When asked why he wanted to do that, he said he just wanted to make other people happy. The following week I happened to be at the Johnson City Wal-Mart on the same night as their “Shop with a Cop” event. As I made my way through the aisles, I overheard one officer say, “Now you need to pick out something for yourself.” Later, I watched as a little girl said to her officer, “Oh my mom would love this” as she pointed to a set of cookware. All the while being in need themselves, these young people were more interested in bringing joy to others. Sounds a lot like Santa Claus to me!
Whether proof is found in a set of mysterious hoofprints in the snow and strange sounds in the night or children who know that it’s more blessed to give than to receive, the Christmas spirit, embodied in the person of Santa Claus, is not only alive but thriving in the hearts of all who believe.
Nothing says it better than the famous editorial written in The Sun newspaper in 1897 as a response to a little girl’s question, “Is there a Santa Claus?”
“No Santa Claus! Thank GOD! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
(Chad Bogart is employed at Sycamore Shoals State Park and is a Museum Curatorial Assistant)

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