For the last 15 years, Christmas has been particularly special because of my three children. Our first child was born two weeks before the holiday and ever since then Santa, reindeers, and the North Pole have once again been a regular part of the season.
I’m feeling a little wistful this year because I fear that it may be the last Christmas that we have a true believer in our family. Our youngest child is 8 and in the third grade, the same age and grade I was when I found out that there was no such thing as Santa. Or as I remember it, the day I took my first step into adulthood.
Growing up holidays were a huge deal in my family, and none was as big as Christmas.
Right after Thanksgiving, my mom would paint a Christmas scene on our front door, start baking fruit cakes, dozens of cookies, and plan her wonderful gingerbread houses. There was a joy that entered our house, and it stayed until New Year’s Day.
My parents loved the mystery and fantasy of the season. They really turned the day into a magical celebration, and Santa Claus was a huge part of their plans.
In the flesh.
In our own home.
At around 2:00 am or 3:00 am Christmas Day, Santa Claus would come in to set up the 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 didn’t?
Well my maiden name starts with a B, and as everyone knows Santa delivers his presents in alphabetical order. 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 7:00 pm or 8:00 pm on Christmas Eve. We would have to will ourselves to fall asleep. The anticipation was almost too much.
The ornaments would be left out so Santa could trim the tree for us. We didn’t see our Christmas tree decorated until after Santa came.
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 until years later that I found out it was my dad throwing pebbles on the roof. These people were not fooling around.)
I still remember the rush of adrenaline I would get as we walked down the stairs, clinging nervously to my mother. We were in the presence of a celebrity. And not just any celebrity, this was, The Man himself. It wasn’t just the Christmas elf helping out at the local mall.
How lucky could a girl from Long Island get?
Santa would hand my sisters and me a present and tell us how good we had been the whole year. Then he was off. The whole visit lasted about five minutes.
As we were opening up our gifts, 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.
I could never understand why my dad always forgot to get ice each year. Did the man never learn?
When I was in the third grade, my friends started to say something that was just outrageous. According to some of these so-called friends, 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.
One day I’d had enough of these naysayers and decided to ask my mother, the person I knew would tell me the truth, why these poor children would doubt the existence of Santa Claus.
As I remember it, it was a few weeks before Christmas, and I was alone in the car with my mother.
“Mom I really want to know, is there such a thing as Santa Claus?
“You want the truth Kathy?”
I should add that I was 99.9% sure she was going to say yes. How could it not be true? I saw him every 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?
We both cried in the car. It was the beginning of the end for her too. Her oldest child was growing up.
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.
Our family traditions started to change after that year. The next Christmas we put up our tree as a family, and when my youngest sister finally admitted that she knew the truth, we even started taking turns dressing up as Santa. Christmas was still special but different.
Peter is my baby, and when he crosses over to the land of the non-believers that will be it for Santa and my family until my kids have families of their own.
Just as it was a step into adulthood as a kid, it will be a step into a new phase of my parenthood.
Is it wrong that all want for Christmas is one more year with Santa?
*This essay is an update of a piece that was published November, 2011, under the title, Don’t Tell Me There is no Santa.