I see old childhood photographs of myself with Santa Claus, and I look pretty tense. I mean, this is Santa Claus. He’s revered in books, film, commercials, and television specials. He decides who gets presents, and what kind of presents they get. All knowing, all seeing; this is a man who can make things happen.
Mother of Pearl, imaging meeting Audrey Hepburn and Santa Claus at the same time? If I were that kid, I would be grateful for that bonnet for keeping my brains from exploding clean out of my darling little ringlets.
Meeting Santa is a huge deal; it’s like a job interview with a celebrity. Strong posture, beauty pageant smile, penetrating eye contact. Be sure to finish with a firm handshake and you’ve sealed the deal. If your name appears on a naughty list, it was game over. Let nothing derail plans of new Barbie dolls and her many fabulous accessories.
My older brother was insistent on blowing the whistle on the whole Santa fallacy. He’d use reason and logic to debunk Santa’s delivery schedule. “Even with the time zones and the International Date Line. It’s impossible”.
Licking my lips nervously, I sputtered feeble arguments, but to no avail. His eyes narrowed conspiratorially, “Ever notice that Santa has the same handwriting as mom?” No Anthony, seeing that I’m in primary school and not a seasoned forensic analysis and handwriting expert, I hadn’t noticed. My bad. I was too dazzled by the bright and shiny packages. My faith was waning, my brother’s rationale had planted a seed of doubt in my mind. The anxiety! The stress! How could I have a family of my own, not knowing whether Santa would deliver toys to my sleeping children? Should I have some extra presents on hand, just in case Santa’s a no-show?
Like a frantic detective obsessed with the case, I was rapidly unraveling. I was going to solve this mystery or else. My young forehead was tattooed with frown lines from all the worrying and hang wringing. I turned to my mother for advice, but her vague testimonies about Santa’s legitimacy were frustrating at best. Airily she would say, “You believe what you want to believe”. If this had been a gritty crime drama this would be the point where I would reach across the table, grab the withholding witness by the collar: “Don’t jerk me around Mac, just give it to me straight”.
I was desperate, reasoning like a discouraged hostage negotiator, “Listen, I don’t care, either way I just need to know”.
“You believe what you want to believe”.
I set an action plan in place. I would skip sleep on Christmas Eve and stake out the scene.
Listening for the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof, I wondered what I’d do if I saw him. What would I say? Hello? Thank you? My regards to Mrs. Claus? Be sure to peruse our fine selection of milk and cookies? He never came. Maybe it was my mother lurking outside of my bedroom door that kept him away. Like magic, the presents were tree-side anyway. My exhausted parents clutching coffee cups for life support, and glaring at me with sleepy eyes. “Now do you believe?” my mother yawns. I got everything I wanted, but not the truth. That would come later, in an elementary school classroom, when a spontaneous, teacher-lead conversation explored how and when we found out about Santa Claus. The children casually discussing their revelations as I sat there dumbly, eyes screaming behind my grim pallor and sweaty upper lip. The sting of the truth, the humiliation of holding on for a little too long. How cool and good humored my peers were about it. Knowing that there was a little less magic in the world was a quiet devastation; still I was grateful that I once wanted so badly to believe.
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