Incarcerated by Santa Claus

It’s a bit cliche, but this time of year always gets me feeling a little nostalgic. Perhaps some of you are the same way. I find myself rolling old holiday memories around and around in my head, reliving them, remembering who was there, how things looked, the smells, tastes and sounds. My family celebrates Christmas, so my memories are of things like Santa Claus, decorated trees, cinnamon and balsam, nativity scenes and singing carols in a warm, candlelit church. Some of the memories have faded or frayed a bit, but many are as vivid as when they first occurred. I’d like to tell you about one of them.

My favorite and most vivid Christmas memory actually spans multiple years and involves imprisonment of my brother and I at the hands of Santa Claus. In those quiet nighttime hours between Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, Santa would land his sleigh on our roof and come down our chimney with his sack full of wonderful presents to put under our tree. Santa knew my brother and I were so excited about Christmas morning, he wanted to make sure we stayed put in our rooms until he was done with his work. Because, you know, he had quite a bit to do. He had to fill our stockings with chocolates, books, little toys and an orange in the toe, and he had to arrange every gift just so, in a perfect cascade under the tree. This was important stuff. Santa could not be distracted, nor could he be interrupted. But little Caroline and Josh were liable to wake up at any moment, open our bedroom doors and wander right out in the middle of it all. So, what was Santa to do?

Well, being an enterprising magical elf, Santa came up with an ingenious solution: he took rolls of red and green crepe paper streamers, twisted the strands and taped crazy, nonsensical crisscrosses over our bedroom doorways to barricade us in. His eyes undoubtedly twinkled as he took this precaution, a little grin playing over his round face. “That should do it,” he must’ve thought, pleased with himself as he finished and tucked away his crepe paper, scissors and tape. Now he could relax and comfortably go about the business of laying out our presents, rewarding his good work at the end by drinking the eggnog and eating the cookies we’d left for him, leaving nothing but a smear in the glass and a few crumbs on the plate. And, just before he left, he’d give the carrot we’d left to Rudolph. Rudolph must’ve loved that carrot, because all that was ever left was the stem end. We never knew if he shared with the other reindeer.

In any case, on Christmas morning, usually well before we were supposed to get up, and when the sky was just beginning to show daylight, one of us would crawl out of bed and open our door. And, as we saw the barricade, fluttering so slightly there in the doorway, we knew. Santa had been there. And I’d urgently whisper through the other door to my brother, or he to me, to GETUPGETUPGETUP! And the other door would open and the other barricade would flutter. And my brother and I would look out further, and there was a trail of nuts and oranges leading out to the living room. That Santa, always dropping stuff. And we’d look even further and see the new shapes and glint of colors under the tree. THE PRESENTS WERE THERE.

Now, you might think we crashed right through those barricades in our rush to get out to the loot. You would be mistaken. We treasured those crepe paper crisscrosses. And Santa always seemed to design the barricade just so there was one space through which a small child could squeeze without breaking a single strand. The barricades usually lasted about two weeks, until one day when my brother and I would both decide that it was time, and we’d go ripping through them with glee.

I now know, of course, it was actually our parents’ doing, and have since found out the tradition comes from my Grandma, my Dad’s mom. So did the trail of nuts and oranges, which was actually a practice left over from the Depression. But, when I was a little girl, it was all Santa’s doing. And it was magical. Such a brilliant idea, actually. So elegant in its simplicity. In fact, it’s such a wonderful memory, I’ve found myself enthusiastically recommending it to my friends who now have young children.

A few years back, now fully grown and long past notions of Santa Claus, my brother and I visited my Dad and stepmom out in Arizona for Christmas. We each settled in to a twin bed there in the guest bedroom and slept the uninterrupted Christmas Eve sleep of adulthood. On Christmas morning, we woke up and opened the door, and my heart leapt a bit because, oh my goodness, the crazy criscross barricade was there. Even all these years later, Santa hadn’t forgotten. And it was still completely and utterly magical.

I won’t get the chance to post anything on the blog again until after the New Year, so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of you reading the happiest of holidays. And, now that I’ve shared my favorite holiday memory with you, I’d love to hear yours. What do you remember most fondly about this time of year?

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Caroline Sober

Senior Software Developer at Promega Corporation
Caroline is a senior software developer at Promega. She’s not a scientist, so if you hear her talking about DNA purification or pipetting or current issues in bioprivacy, she’s totally faking it and you should tell her to hush. She is, however, passionate about building useful software, the interactions between people and technology in general, and how social media is changing the conversation between companies and customers. She lives in Madison with her husband, daughter, and 110-pound dog.


  1. What an awesome story. I think Santa may leave a barricade across my daughter’s bedroom door this year and a trail of nuts and oranges to the Christmas tree.

    Thanks for this wonderful story–it’s great way to start my day.


  2. Caroline-
    What a wondeful story. It brought tears to my eyes (I’m a big cry baby). I don’t have children yet, but I garantee I will carry on with your family tradition.
    As for my Christmas memory, I have to explain that in Brazil we open our presents on Christmas eve and usually all family members are at that house for supper and presents. I was probably 5 or 6 and my Mom talked me and my sister into going to her bedroom, I can’t remember what elaborate story she came up with. Then we suddenly heard the bells from the reindeer flying we rushed back to the living room and there was brand new bicycles dropped off by Santa. But he was in a hurry, many other presents to deliver, but i can still remember the bells sounds and the excitment or running out there and hoping to see Santa :)

  3. Thank you all for your comments — I’m so glad to hear this tradition may find its way into more children’s Christmas mornings. It’s a great one. Keep passing it around!

    Gabriela, that’s a very sweet Christmas story. We had something kind of similar one Christmas Eve, when Josh and I were having our baths and generally procrastinating getting into bed. My mom warned us, if Santa flew over and we were still awake, he might just pass by our house. Right about that time, my dad vigorously rang a string of bells out in the backyard, near the bathroom window. Mom gasped, “I think that’s Santa flying over now!”

    I think my brother’s and my eyes must’ve gotten big as saucers. We left skid marks on our way to bed.

  4. Hi, it’s my first comment here – nice blog!

    The one year we ever had a white Christmas (I grew up in England), my Dad went out on the flat roof over the kitchen in his boots and made sleigh marks with our old and little-used toboggan, and reindeer hoof marks with some other tool. When he showed us in the morning, we were completely enthralled!

  5. Michele, I think the chocolate octagon cookies sound like a great new tradition — what a creative and unexpected request. Who would think to ask for chocolate octagon cookies? :) I love the idea about hiding the cookie cutter the rest of the year, too. Good luck finding one!

    Cath, that’s a great story about your Dad creating evidence of Santa’s presence at your house. I can imagine that was a pretty amazing sight, and rock-solid proof of the jolly old elf’s existence, right? :)

  6. Caroline, it’s sweet that you think it was your Mom and Dad who barricaded you and your brother Joshua in your rooms. I’m sure they would have done it if they’d thought of it. In fact it was Mrs. Claus and me. I think you should know that Mrs. Claus and I may have gotten as much happiness, joy and excitement from barricading you and Joshua in your rooms as you and your brother experienced on those many Christmas Eve nights. Your Mom and Dad were busy wrapping the presents to one another and those that didn’t have a “From: Santa” tag. Thank goodness they also had a bit of bourbon-laced eggnog – or it might have been impossible for us to act without being detected. Thank you for being so faithful about putting out milk and cookies and carrots – (yes, Rudolph shared with the other reindeer who used to laugh and call him names). What you seem to be saying in your blog is that it’s the gifts of the heart that we keep with us. Like you, we still remember those magical nights. Besides that, those heart-felt gifts are much less frustrating than that hobby horse that the elves made me assemble. You may not know it, but for Mrs. Claus and me, little children grow in years, but to us they are always wonderful children. From here at the North Pole, you and your brother have been very good “children” this year. Merry Christmas.

  7. My family didn’t have much in the way of Christmas traditions because we celebrate it as a purely religious holiday (church, a few presents – Chinese New Year is our big feast and family reunion). But as a newlywed also living with my sister and brother after spending years in the USA away from everybody, I’m looking forward to our own little celebration.

    Christmas in Singapore is otherwise ghastly. It’s so commercialised – even more than in Western countries if you can believe it.

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