As a child, I remember going to bed very early on Christmas Eve. I was so afraid that Santa would pass by because I was still awake. I have even heard his sleigh bells as he passed over the house on a cold, clear winter’s night. On one occasion, I was awakened in the night by the sound of something (a box?) being dropped somewhere in the recesses of our house. Rather than allow curiosity to pull me from my warm bed, I shut my eyes tightly and willed myself back to sleep.
Santa was pure magic and I was in awe. In third grade, I recall a conversation with a classmate during which we boo-hooded our peers who no longer believed. We just knew Santa was real. During a Christmas party that same year, my mother visited the class, dressed as the jolly old elf himself. Still, my belief did not waiver.
I don’t recall the exact moment when I knew the truth. Maybe it was when I discovered the gifts hidden in my parents’ closet.
One Christmas Eve, my grandmother whispered to my mother, “Does she still…?” My mother said no and my chest swelled with pride in my newfound maturity, as if I had been admitted to a secret club.
Since my only sibling was four years younger, I was expected to continue the deception, for his benefit. It was simply understood. There was no opportunity to engage in adult conversations with my parents about the matter, since he was always around. It kept the magic alive, at least for a few more years.
There were about ten years during which Santa did not exist for our family, after my brother became aware and before my first child was born. But I don’t really remember them. I still went to church on Christmas Eve and sang in the choir at the candlelight service. There was a traditional neighborhood party with lots of laughs.
But Christmas without the magic of Santa left only vague memories.
Once my children came along, he returned and the holiday season was again filled with excitement and anticipation. Like me, my daughter eventually had to play along for the sake of her younger brother. Today, she is 40 years old and she still has never told me that she doesn’t believe. I think she knew it would break my heart. When my son was at the age of questioning, I worked diligently to persuade him otherwise. I’ll never forget his comment that Christmas morning, when he first looked upon the gifts piled under the tree. “Now I know there’s a Santa. Mom could never afford all this!” Score one for Santa.
Again, there was a decade between my son believing and my grandson’s arrival. I don’t remember much about them. Fortunately, my daughter embraced the traditions we’d established when her own son arrived. I added to the fun with magical, photoshopped pictures of Santa placing gifts under their tree and annual visits to the old man himself.
This year, my grandson is twelve. Like his mother, he is hesitant to admit that he knows the truth. Last year, he politely resisted when I suggested he visit Santa, while we were shopping at Yankee Candle. But he went along, at Nana’s insistence, probably to humor me but possibly to avoid the stark inevitable acknowledgement that Christmas was, somehow, less magical. I knew he was on the fence, so I did everything in my power to counter whatever he heard at school or whatever logical reasoning was going on inside his head.
I fear that this year might be the beginning of another Santa drought in our family. There are no more young children. I’m not ready to accept another ten years without Santa. To make matters worse, I’m recovering from major surgery that has robbed me of my mobility for the past six weeks. As a result, my Christmas celebration is going to be low key this time around. There has been a lot less shopping, decorating, baking and general merry making. I’ve been thinking about some new traditions that are more aligned with our all-adult version of Christmas. I have a few ideas about how we can all be like Santa and deliver some magic to each other. But I’ll wait until next year to implement them.
For now, we’ll focus on the important things that are also magical, in their own way. We’ll enjoy the simple things, like being together and sharing laughter, a good meal and our most cherished memories. The stockings will still be filled mysteriously on Christmas Eve and the tags on the presents under the tree will still say “from Santa.”
Until someone dares to admit to me that they don’t believe, Santa is alive and well at my house.
I think I just heard sleigh bells….