The Singular Fortean Society received the following email last year from a woman who wished to recount a series of miraculous holiday events that have impacted her life.
She asked to only be referred to by her first name, Tree.
Tree was 57 when she sent the email, but the events she shared began when she was 26.
Her first encounter took place in early January 1991 while Tree was at a grocery store in Easton, Pennsylvania, with her then husband.
I eloped in 1990. My very young husband and I moved away from my home and my family to live in eastern Pennsylvania, a place where he spent time as a child. We had no idea what we were doing. We moved without a place to live, without jobs and without a plan.
In the winter of that year, we had scraped together enough money to get an apartment but paying the rent left us without money for anything else. And my husband smoked. He didn’t want to smoke, but nicotine addiction is the worst, and I couldn’t stand to watch him when he couldn’t get a cigarette. (Did I mention I was really young?)
In the middle of one night, we find ourselves in the back of the neighborhood’s grocery store. The store was open 24 hours, and it was about 1 o’clock in the morning. We are standing next to the milk cooler, literally counting out pennies to see if we could swing a small carton of milk, a cheap loaf of bread, and some tobacco. We can’t. I know we don’t have enough money, and I am insisting we skip the bread and get milk and tobacco. My husband is insisting we need the food, and he can deal without smoking.
The guy came out of nowhere. We were standing in the back aisle of the store, which was wide and in the middle of a cold winter’s night, empty. But suddenly there is a tall, thin, bald man in a long coat standing right next to us. There was no way he should have gotten so close without us noticing, but we were distracted by our situation.
Without so much as a “hello,” this guy grasps my husband’s hand and begins pouring change into it. My husband quickly lifted his other hand to try to catch all the money flowing out of this guy’s leather pouch. (Who the hell carries change in a leather pouch tied with a cord?) All I could do was stare. As the change fills my husband’s cupped hands, the guy laughs, saying “Buy some candy bars, too.” And he winks at us.
I glance at my husband and down at the money and then up to say, “Thank you,” but there is no one there. No one anywhere. There was nowhere he could have gone that quickly that we would not have been able to see him. The guy just vanished.
People I have told this story tell me none of this proves it was Santa Claus. But I know. All these years later, I still know. And we got everything we needed, and a couple chocolate bars, too.
Investigator Tobias Wayland was able to interview Tree over the phone.
“I know that it was shortly after Christmas. It wasn’t on Christmas. Even 24-hour grocery stores in Pennsylvania aren’t open on Christmas—or at least they weren’t back then,” she told him. “We were in the grocery store in the middle of the night, which was not uncommon for us because we were young.”
The grocery store was empty, with only a cashier up front and maybe a couple of stock people around that the couple didn’t see.
“That was one of the reasons the encounter was so strange, because the grocery store was so empty,” she explained.
Despite his relatively brief manifestation, the mystery man left an indelible impression on Tree, and she still remembered the details of his appearance.
“I’m only five foot five. I remember that he was taller than us. I remember that I looked up at him when I first realized he was there. [He was] maybe a few inches over six feet. I know that he was bald. And he was wearing a long coat, like it buttoned up in the front, but it was a long coat that went all the way down to his calves. The coat was dark. He was Caucasian and he had the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen,” she said. “I don’t remember any facial hair. I’m not particularly great with faces, but I don’t remember any [facial hair].”
As for his age, she said, “It felt like he was older. Well, older than us. We were in our early, early twenties. He was older than us.”
The strangeness of his sudden disappearance stuck with Tree, since there simply wasn’t anywhere that he could have gone in the time it took them to glance back up.
“The back aisle of the grocery store was one of those wide back aisles. It had the dairy cooler and the cakes and stuff, and we were actually in the back corner because that’s where the milk was. So, we could see straight down to the front of the store to our right because that was the aisle all the way down to the front, and we could see all the way down the aisle along the back of the store. There were no people,” she explained. “I don’t know where he could have come from. There were no doors that I remember, and we would have heard that. And even had he come around the corner from another aisle, it seems like I would have noticed that. It felt like he came out of nowhere.”
“The showing up was less startling than when he let go of my ex-husband’s hand and we were looking down at the money and looked up at each other and looked at him to thank him and he was just gone. At that moment, I thought, ‘This is really weird. Where did he go?’ There’s nowhere he could have gone,” Tree continued. “He would have had to walk at least 12 or 15 feet to an aisle that we couldn’t see down.”
Tree said that she normally doesn’t talk about this sort of thing but was intrigued by the oddity of The Singular Fortean Society’s request for holiday stories.
“It was your request for a holiday thing. I was like, ‘Yeah, okay, I guess I could tell this story,’” she said. “The older I get, the less easy it is to tell. People don’t want to hear that somebody in their fifties believes in Santa.”
That kindly older man playing the part of St. Nick in the grocery store isn’t the only Christmas miracle Tree has experienced in her life.
“I will say this, every year since then, when I have not had any money or been in financial trouble, somebody has always shown up to give my kids gifts or give me a gift—somebody I don’t know or somebody unexpected—ever since then,” she said. “There were a couple of years that were very tough when my kids were very young. We lived in a trailer in the woods, not in a trailer park, way off the beaten path. We’d get up and there would be a laundry basket full of Christmas presents on the back step for the kids. Nobody even knows where we are. Where did that come from?”
However, she said, “I’m pretty sure it was people, not Santa Claus.”
A different year, also around Christmastime, Tree was treated to another act of generosity.
“There was one year, I was in a bookstore looking at books and I didn’t have any money to buy books,” she said. “This woman literally walked up to me and said, ‘I’ll buy those for you,’ and she took them out of my arms and walked them up to the register, bought them, and brought them to me with a receipt. She said, ‘Enjoy,’ and walked out of the store.”
“Never saw her before, never saw her again. That was just a thing that happened,” Tree added.
Regardless of whether one believes that any supernatural forces were at work here, the effect that these events have had on Tree is undeniable.
“I think most people are really good, honestly. And now that I’m in a better place financially, I’ve started trying to do that for others. People who don’t know me. It makes people smile. That’s always fun,” she said. “That’s what Santa Claus taught me at the end of the day, because of that first encounter and the following encounters, now it’s a thing that I like to do.”