There is nothing better for an eight-year-old little girl than watching a light blanket of snow quietly cover the rows of tulips and fields of crocuses around her cozy Dutch cottage. Christmas was possibly the most exciting time of the year for Leonore. Though she had a few questions whether Sinter Klaas (Santa Claus) really did exist, Leonore was sure that it was Jesus’ birthday. And that is what she celebrated.
Nonetheless, the day before Christmas was the biggest event of the year. Beverwijk, the town where Leonore lived, turned into Santa’s domain. Local shops were dressed with red ribbons, strings of golden lights and holly wreaths hung from quaint wooden doors. Frosty window panes could not hide the festivities inside each store. Trees showed off their shiny ornaments and the cobblestone streets were lined with carolers singing the songs about Sinter Klaas’s arrival. And if anyone every doubted the existence of this man they had only to visit Beverwijk on Christmas Eve.
Leonore had her own ceremony the days before Christmas. She would sneak out of bed in the middle of the night to see how many presents under the candle-lit Christmas tree had her name on it. There hadn’t been one for the last four years.
A year ago, she thought she had spotted a present but to her dismay it was only an old train set that her uncle had left behind. It didn’t even work and a few tracks were missing. As she sighed, Leonore had taken a quick look up at the portrait of Jesus that decorated a small part of the living room wall. “Not even one?” she asked Him. It was a strangely wonderful portrait. No matter where she turned, his eyes – Christmas eyes she called them – followed her and always with a smile.
I have not forgotten you, was what she thought those eyes said. Leonore would hold Him to that promise.
The young lass was dressed in her Sunday best, this Christmas Eve, with a thick woolen coat to match. She held onto her father’s hand as they strolled through town waiting for the ship from Spain that would bring their beloved Sinter Klaas. It was an elaborate production but to starry-eyed children this was the real thing.
Father upheld his family tradition and brought Leonore inside their favorite store. Here she was allowed to buy a soda, something they could not afford throughout the year, and a gigantic chocolate letter-an L, of course, for her name. It would last her well into February.
When finally the time came for Santa’s triumphant entry into Beverwijk, Leonore was hoisted upon her father’s shoulders. Sinter Klaas’s eyes would not elude her this day. The ship, carried on choppy waves which just hours earlier were Leonore’s neighbors, came slowly nearer. Would he see her in the crowd, would he know her?
Then suddenly, Sinter Klaas stood in front of her, waving at only her. His eyes were upon her. And a warm sensation reached to the soul of her heart.
Christmas eyes, she thought. He winked, he waved, and even under that long white beard Leonore could see that smile. Sinter Klaas’s ship carried him further away but his eyes followed Leonore.
When all was said and done and the ship from Spain was docked at the local bank Leonore’s heart pumped with utter joy. Father stayed calm when he said, “Let’s go home and have a nice cup of hot chocolate.”
“Pappa, can we make a cake for Jesus’ birthday?” Leonore said as she skipped along her father’s side.
“I think that would be a very nice present.”
When finally they came home, put away their woolen shawls and winter coats, Leonore took one more peek under the Christmas tree. “Oh,” she whispered. “Jesus was here.”