Forty years ago tomorrow night I saw Santa. I didn't see him at the mall or in a department store or ringing a bell on the street. I saw him in our living room at 4am. He wasn't my dad in a suit or an inflatable dummy or a photograph, he was the embodiment of Christmas made visible. He filled the room, was semi-transparent, more spirit than flesh and didn't notice a small boy crouching on the stairs and watching him between the newel posts. I know he was real precisely because he was so unnatural. You can't see through your father in a Santa suit and no mundane human can fill a whole room.
This encounter with Santa is one of my most vivid memories from my childhood. It's the only genuine supernatural experience I've ever had and I have no reason to believe it was anything but real. I wasn't given to hallucinations as a child and haven't had a history of mental illness in the years since then. I don't think it was a holy vision. It certainly didn't cause me to become particularly religious. It's just this one, inexplicable incident when I glimpsed something beyond our normal reality.
I bore my children with the story every year, and I think my older daughter finds the whole concept somewhat embarassing. I guess it's not cool to have a father who still believes in Santa. I think that in most ways I live a pretty rational life, but I can't shake the reality of what I saw all those years ago. I wait up late every Christmas Eve - ostensibly filling stockings - hoping I might get lucky and see Santa again, though lately I have this morbid fear that if I see him again he'll be the spirit of death come to take me away.