It is one of the mysteries of my life that I can remember certain decade-old events in such vivid detail that if feels like I’m experiencing them all over again. Yet I can’t seem to remember to sign my six-year-old’s notebook each night.
Poor Peter, he’s sorely lacking a few stickers in his book because his mother’s mind has taken a long extended holiday.
With Christmas right around the corner, one memory that keeps popping into my head is the day I learned that Santa Claus wasn’t real–at least not in the way I first believed.
I had just turned 8, and on that fateful day I began my road to adulthood.
Holidays in my family were a huge deal, and none was as big as Christmas.
Right after Thanksgiving, my mom would paint a Christmas scene on our front door, start baking dozens of cookies and plan her wonderful gingerbread houses. There was a joy that entered our house, and it stayed all through the holiday season.
My parents loved the mystery and fantasy of Christmas. They really turned the day into a magical celebration, and Santa Claus was a huge part of their plans.
There would be some talk about being good for Santa, but I don’t remember my parents really holding it over our heads.
Of course they didn’t have to because you see we not only believed in Santa, my two sisters and I knew there was a real living Santa Claus.
We saw him every year.
At around 2 or 3 in the morning of Christmas Day, Santa Claus would come in to set up the Christmas tree and bring our presents. He would stay just long enough to wish us a Merry Christmas, and then he would run out the door to continue his work.
Why were we so lucky to get to see Santa each year when our cousins and our friends did not you ask?
Well my maiden name starts with a B, and as everyone knows Santa delivers his presents alphabetically. It was just a good piece of luck that we had a name in the beginning of the alphabet. Our best friends and cousins had to suffer with surnames starting with Hs, Ms, or Zs.
My parents would put us to bed by 7 or 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve. The ornaments would be left out so Santa could trim the tree for us. We didn’t see our Christmas tree decorated until Santa came.
We would be busting with excitement, and it seemed impossible that we would be able to sleep, but somehow we managed. The idea that Santa would not come unless we were sleeping was a powerful motivator.
With much fanfare and excitement my mother would wake us up in the middle of the night. She would tell us to listen for the sounds of Santa’s reindeer’s on our roof.
(It wouldn’t be till later that I found out it was my dad throwing pebbles on the roof. These people were not fooling around.)
I could hear Santa’s familiar HO, HO, HO. This was the big moment I waited for all year.
Too bad I was half asleep at the time. My sisters and I could barely keep our eyes open.
I felt as if I was in the presence of a celebrity. I would get very nervous and hang on to my mother. This wasn’t just one of Santa’s elves dressing up as Santa at a mall, this was the real deal.
Santa would tell us how good we had been and hand us each a present. He would stop long enough to take a picture and then leave. We would then maul our presents till we could see what Santa brought us.
As we were opening our presents my dad, who always managed to miss Santa, would come back from the store having had to buy ice at 2:00 in the morning. We would tell him all about our visit and would unwrap the rest of our gifts when it was still pitch dark outside.
When I was in the third grade my friends started to say that there was no such thing as Santa Claus. They had the crazy idea that our parents were the ones who really bought the gifts.
Poor misguided souls.
If they only had names in the beginning of the alphabet, they wouldn’t be questioning the existence of a person I not only believed in, but saw every Christmas with my own, albeit very sleepy, eyes.
I decided to ask my mother why these poor children would doubt the existence of Santa Claus.
As I remember it, I was alone in the car with my mom. I asked her if Santa was real. I remember telling her that I really wanted the truth.
“You really want to know Kathy?”
I should explain that I was almost 100% sure she was going to say yes. How could it not be true? I saw Santa with my own eyes each year.
“Well, there is a Santa, but he is the spirit of Christmas.” Then she went on to explain that the man in the red suit who rode in a sleigh with eight reindeer was just a fun story.
I was devastated. This was not the answer I was expecting.
That was the beginning of the end of my childhood innocence. I found out the truth. Daddy was Santa. He really did not go out to buy ice in the middle of the night, he was getting out of his costume.
What was the world coming to? What was she going to say next that there was no Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny either?
At the age of 8 I started my journey into adulthood.
We both cried in the car. It was the beginning of the end for her too. Her oldest child was growing up.
My mom asked me not tell my sisters or any other child who still believed the truth about Santa. She said that each child should figure it out for themselves when they were ready.
That stuck in my mind. I never told my sisters or anyone else what I knew. I would let the uninformed masses stay uniformed till they were ready to jump into the abyss.
That Christmas was different for me. It ushered in a new phase in my life. I remember I got to stay up a bit later and trim the tree with my older cousins who were already in the non-believers club.
As much as I loved the mystery of Santa, I also loved that I was growing up. I felt as if I was in a secret club, different from my sisters.
The following Christmas we started to put up our tree and decorate it as a family. We still waited till Christmas eve to put it up though.
As each of my sisters got older and learned the truth our traditions changed.
Santa remained though.
When my youngest sister finally confessed to knowing the truth my parents didn’t retire the Santa suit. We just started taking turns dressing up and playing the role.
By the time my first child, Tom, was born, it had been a few years since the suit was used. But it’s been back in business since his arrival 13 years ago.
This year there will be seven grandchildren–ranging from our new teenager Tom, to my adorable nephew who just turned one.
Even though I’m all grown up and I know who the real man in the Santa suit is, I can’t help but feel the same charge of excitement I did as a young child whenever Santa comes in my parents’ house and smiles at my children.
What a wonderful gift my parents gave my sisters and me in giving us the fantasy of Santa.
They always worked hard to give us the material things they knew we wanted. I had Christmases with favorite dolls, TVs, and stereos. There was even a puppy when I was 11. But looking back, it is the wonderful memory of Santa that lingers.
All the stuff my parents bought me is long gone, even my beloved dog has been gone 20 years.
But I’m 46 and I still remember the joy and pure excitement of seeing Santa each Christmas. My parents must have been exhausted, but each year they came through.
It helps remind me that the magic of Christmas and the lasting memories are about moments shared with family and loved ones. I can come with a long list of all the material things I want, but they pale in comparison to the time I get to share with my children, my parents, my sisters and their children, and my husband.
Those are Santa’s greatest gifts.