WARNING: For those of you who are sensitive about this topic, I am going to be discussing the true nature of Santa Claus.  So read further at your own peril.

tree

As I mentioned in a previous post, I celebrated every Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house.  This meant that my family and I were in Rhode Island on Christmas Day every year, while our house, our tree, and — most importantly — our chimney were all in upstate New York, 365 miles away.  So I didn’t grow up with the experience of waking my parents before dawn on December 25th to see what Santa had left under our tree.  We had to wait until we got home.  We would usually stay in Rhode Island through the New Year, and then drive the 8 hours home along I-90.  When we got home, no matter what time of day or night it was, the Christmas tree lights would be lit, the stockings would be full, and presents would fill the space beneath our tree.  It was an extra layer of Christmas magic that could not be easily explained, since our parents were in the car with us the whole way home.

One year, I distinctly remember Santa coming early so that we could have Christmas before we drove to my grandparents’.  My mom, sister and I had gone out to buy some last-minute gifts, and when we got home, the tree that we had left off was lit in the middle of the day.  My mom first noticed this and pointed it out when we were in the driveway.  When we got inside, Santa had come early, just for us!  I immediately ran back outside, thinking that I would be able to see the reindeer’s tracks in the fresh snow on our roof — and they were there.  A single line of tracks, to be sure, and roughly squirrel-sized, but the poem says tiny reindeer, right?  It was proof enough for me.

angel

So every year, my sister and I went through the toy section of the thick department store catalogues that were sent to the house (anyone else old enough to remember this?), made out our Christmas lists, and then sent them off to Santa.  As my sister and I got older, belief in most of the pantheon of magical beings went by the wayside.  (I actually remember going to the principal of my elementary school with a few other kids in 2nd or 3rd grade to complain about a book in our classroom that debunked the Tooth Fairy myth.  We were trying to be morally outraged.  He was surprisingly unsympathetic.)  But we could never quite explain away Santa.

We took a crack at it one year.  My mom promised to tell the truth, if we guessed right.  Did my parents put the gifts under the tree while we were waiting for them in the car?  No, there clearly wasn’t enough time for that.  Did they hide the gifts with our neighbor Elaine, who always took care of our cats while we were gone, and have her put them under the tree?  No, they didn’t do that either.  Several minutes of questioning left us stumped.  There was no other explanation: Santa was real.

shadows

I remember walking home from school with my best friend Stacey at age 12, with the two of us comparing all of the evidence we had for the existence of Santa.  We compared traditions, told stories of the year we got a letter, or an ornament direct from Santa, complete with our names on them.  We were proving to ourselves that he could be real, willingly suspending a belief that most kids have grown out of by the time they get to that age.

So that year, or maybe even the next, my family came home from Rhode Island, and walked into a house that was cold and dark.  The stockings were empty.  The floor under the tree was bare.  I was shocked to see the house looking so desolate.  I turned to my mother and burst into tears.  She was surprised, and hugged me with a somewhat bewildered look on her face.  And then she reminded us that, years ago, she had told us Santa would stop coming to our house when we stopped believing in him.  I’m pretty sure I wailed something along the lines of, “I do believe in him!”  But she pointed out the simple fact that I had missed: this was the first year that neither my sister or I had made out a list for Santa.  And I realized that she was right, I deserved nothing under the tree, because for the first time I had forgotten about Santa.

ornaments

We went upstairs, gathered up all the wrapped presents, brought them downstairs, and filled the stockings.  It was a fine Christmas, once I got over the initial shock.  And I got used to walking into a dark house every year, and then bringing down the presents one at a time to put under the tree.  But I think there was a grain of truth hidden in what my mother said.  Santa only stops coming if you stop believing.  And I decided at a young age to believe. 

Because now, every year, I am excited to make and give gifts from my heart to the people I love, and to see the surprise and excitement on their faces when I manage to find exactly the right gift.  That’s my inner Santa at work.  And as long as you learn how to go from waiting for Santa, to being Santa, you know that he will be there every year, bringing the magic and the surprise of Christmas into your home.  At least, that’s what I believe.

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