If you could have dinner with any 5 people, dead or alive… or mystical, who would you choose? For me, Santa Claus has to be on the list. Sometimes I wonder if any child ever believed in Santa as deeply as I did. I revered his capabilities, was impressed by his meticulousness and was humbled by his overall awesomeness. He knew what every kid wanted and he visited every single one of them in the same night. Santa was my moral compass, my belief system, my mantra.
Where other kids were pleasantly charmed by and glad of the industriousness of a jolly old man’s elves, I deeply appreciated everything Santa represented. Santa was the most wonderful thing ever because he was MAGIC. Yes, magic. Santa was a supernatural being whose abilities I witnessed every year. Wow, what a lucky girl I was, to actually live in a world with someone like Santa Claus. I was so grateful that this was where I’d ended up. Wasn’t life grand?
Santa wasn’t the only magic in the world but he was the ring leader (perhaps rivaled only by the slightly more elusive Easter Bunny) of the coolest rat pack that ever existed. I had yet to find a four-leaf clover or the end of a rainbow, and I wasn’t quite quick enough to catch my stuffed animals playing when I left the room. No matter how hard I concentrated the books on my shelf never even wobbled, let alone fly, like Matilda’s, and fairies always whipped away just before I could catch them in full view. But my faith in these other beings remained buoyant because of Santa’s consistent follow through.
Writing letters to Santa was a fun exercise, but it was not actually necessary for me to maintain an epistolary correspondence with him. Rather, I communed with Santa, like the Pope with the Holy Spirit. Santa knew me better than I even knew myself. I was constantly delighted by things underneath the tree that I’d never even dreamed of. Oh Santa, you did it again, another marvelous gift! How do you do it?
As you might guess, I questioned Santa’s authenticity later than most. It was in the early ’90’s when I got my first inkling. I was at a sleepover with 2-3 other girls. We were hanging out in the “bonus room.” This room was a plush, bean-bagged haven that in its glorious clutter of toys was part playroom, part uncharted territory. It already foreshadowed the important, independent space it would become in our adolescence. My memory of the exact conversation is vague, no doubt obscured by traumatic scar tissue, but I remember my friend explaining a convoluted story about baby Jesus and parents being “Santa’s helpers.” It didn’t add up and I decided I flat-out didn’t believe her…. But she had planted an evil seed.
I’m unclear how long I stewed on this point, suspiciously searching for clues and comparing handwriting samples. It felt like a year, or was it the longest week of my now burdened life? I know that I was 8, and in third grade, when my mom, noticing my wary unrest, finally decided to sit me down. We lived on the second floor of an apartment building. I remember there was a sliding glass door that opened onto a tiny balcony. From there you could look down on a giant manicured lawn. We sat on the couch, slightly at an angle so that we faced each other. The glass door was behind me. My mom wanted to let me in on a secret about Christmas….
Despite my forewarning her words tumbled down on me like heavy wooden blocks. I suffocated under the avalanche of her message, the finality of the news triggering an emotional and existential meltdown. Miserable and bawling, a crippling realization dawned on me. My parents weren’t only masquerading as Santa Claus, but as his entire magical cohort. Sitting stiffly on the edge of the couch, ashen faced, I whispered a teary and terrifying question to my mother. “The Easter Bunny?” She nodded a slow and sorrowful assent. WHAM, another blow. But surely this wasn’t it. I racked my brain for magical possibilities, for some sliver of truth to it all. There had to be something more, at least one lame magical being who had slipped through reality’s gnashing claws. I felt reckless, I was grasping at straws. With desperation in my eyes and a tremulous voice I asked my final, woeful question. “AND the Tooth Fairy?!”
………….OH GAWD! I was a muggle before that was even a thing. I slumped back on the couch, reeling. My heart was broken.
In that moment I learned to question the world. It was a powerful lesson for an 8 year old and I don’t believe I’ve ever believed in anything so joyfully, wholeheartedly, and blindly since. A part of me still mourns for the days when I lived in a magical world, but another part relishes my devout skepticism and critical eye.
And like a true skeptic, I continue to question…. You know, there are holes in this story that parents are Santa. I prefer to remain a Santa Claus agnostic and I’ll set a seat for Santa at my dinner for 5.
(For a bit more holiday drama, I suggest listening to Act one of this TAL episode. Let’s just say, I can relate: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/482/lights-camera-christmas?act=1#play)