“Santa Claus was here, that son of a bitch,” my dad said with just the right combination of frustration and sarcasm. The year was 1985. It was quite the scene: I had just returned home after spending Christmas Eve with my best friend and her family. It was the wee hours of the morning, and my dad was frantically putting together a Rainbow Brite kitchen for my little sister. I couldn’t stop laughing. I was 12, and no longer a believer, so I could appreciate the humor. It was a true race against the clock, as my younger siblings would be waking in a couple of hours. Dad, I mean, “Santa”, had better get this done. Santa never left a job unfinished. He was always there for us. Now, along with my parents, I would continue the tradition. I had to keep the magic alive.
Santa was serious business in my household. As a child, Christmas Eve was my absolute favorite day of the year. The excitement and anticipation; there really were no other words to describe what a special day it was. Every year, my two younger siblings and I left out milk and cookies for the jolly one. Occasionally, we would remember Rudolf and leave him some carrots. Then, at nightfall, the fun would really begin. In order for Santa to visit our home, we had to be in bed and asleep. Those were the rules. We often worried about our dad, as he always stayed up late to watch television. How would Santa leave us presents? All would be okay, my dad said. The same thing happened every year. Dad would get a very quick glimpse of Santa. Santa, adhering to the rules, would go ahead and sprinkle the magic dust. My dad would soon fall asleep. Santa took it from there and went about his work.
At around 5 AM, we would wake to a living room full of presents. Not all of the gifts were from Santa. Often, we would get surprises from Mrs. Claus, Rudolf and one of the elves. In a matter of minutes, toys would be unwrapped and children left both exhausted and delighted. We always bombarded my dad with questions, as he was continually in the middle of all the magic. When did Santa come? What did he say? Did he have all his reindeer? My dad would always try and give us a brief synopsis, but unfortunately missed a lot of the action due to the “magic dust.” One year, Santa brought in Rudolf, which didn’t make dad too happy. Another year, Santa scowled at him for still being awake so late. We were always left with cookie crumbs and a half glass of milk that was usually spilled all over the table. Santa was messy, but that was okay. He was always in a rush, with all the homes he had to go to in one night.
It was around third grade or so when I first started hearing the rumors; kids saying that Santa was fake. Many of my classmates believed Santa was really our parents. At first, I refused to believe it. He had to be real! I heard him! Who else would be making such a ruckus so late at night? What about the milk and cookies? There was no way my parents would leave such a mess. But, as my brain kept growing, I knew the possibility of certain actions was unlikely. All those houses in one night, all around the world? It was impossible. In fifth grade, one of the cool kids asked me what I thought. With a lump in my throat, I said he wasn’t real. She agreed.
It did sting for a bit, but there was no time to wallow in self pity. It didn’t take me long to realize that there were many other children who still believed. I couldn’t ruin it for them; in particular my brother and sister. My mother, an inner city elementary school teacher, noticed the way the kids would light up when they talked about Santa. Many of them were in foster homes. Others would receive little or nothing, but still believed. My mother’s heart broke a little bit more every time there was that one child that ruined it for the rest of them.
It was probably not until the mid to late 90’s when I heard the news that would make me the most furious. My mother and I were watching a talk show about parenting styles when Christmas came up. One of the guests mentioned that it was “lying” to the kids and that she chose not participate in the huge hoax. Both of our mouths dropped, as we looked around to make sure my sister was not in the room. I really couldn’t believe it. There were parents out there telling their kids Santa was fake? We stared at the television in disbelief. Was this really going on? In my day, it was the other kids that ruined it for you, not the parents themselves. The parents were the ones frantically trying to get their kids to hold on to the magic for as long as possible.
Now, as a mom, I can see both sides. You want to teach your kids to be honest. You want to be as honest as possible with them. We are not perfect all the time. Are we misleading them? Are we lying? The answer is yes. In fact, that is what is so wonderful about it.
I have had a series of tragedies in my own life: the loss of both my mother and my baby boy being the most significant. Honestly, learning that Santa was fake didn’t even make the top ten. As a child, you are full of innocence and see the world with rose colored glasses. As you get older, you realize that life wasn’t as kind as first thought. At 41 years old, I am now in my parent’s shoes; watching our world unravel. Four decades is a long time, and I sometimes feel as if there has been little progress. We are surrounded by hate, illness, death and prejudice. The last time that I checked, Santa is none of those. Santa is love and beauty; but mostly magic.
This precious time will pass. I know that there will be a moment when my two children will find out the truth. Hopefully, they won’t get too mad. Most of all, my hope is that they continue this wonderful tradition with their own family. I may or may not live to meet grandchildren, but I would like to think Santa will be a huge part of their lives either way. Right now, focusing on my own children is more than enough. But, first, we must call grandpa. Santa called him yesterday and the kids can’t wait to hear all the stories.