I Still Believe In Santa Claus
I was in the fifth grade, in Mrs. Clink’s class, when it was decided that the elementary school play would be “The Year Without A Santa Claus.” Auditions were held, and casting was done on the basis of student vote; I was “elected” to play Santa. The rehearsals were held during school hours, so no extemporaneous tim...e was required. The only interruption to our rehearsal schedule was a field trip.
There were two cousins in my class, Christie and Julie, whose mothers were part of a quint-sisterhood of which one might swear they were actually quintuplets. They were called “The North Girls” around town as their maiden name was North, and, regardless of their age differences, they really did look, walk, and talk quite alike. Christie and Julie sat on the opposite side of the bus from me, and one row forward, their mothers took up the seat across from them, which meant they were directly ahead of me.
Talk on the bus inevitably turned to the play, the progression of rehearsals and, as my parents had taught music and drama, the “North Girls” were interested in why I had been so easily elected Santa and joked of whether or not it was just because of my parents. Several kids spoke up and said things like: “Oh, no; Mike’s Santa was just the best one,” “He does the Ho, Ho, Ho, so well,” “You’d swear if you closed your eyes that he really was Santa,” “It’s amazing how he can sound like an old man!” Well, the North Girls wanted to hear some lines so I obliged them, they laughed aloud, were duly impressed, and the majority of the bus erupted into applause when I was finished. As the din died down, there were comments like: “See, we told you!” “That’s amazing!” “How do you change your voice like that?” “That was very good!” I always liked attention, and I am sure I even blushed a little as I felt my face flush.
Suddenly, talk all around me began about when others had found out there was no Santa Claus… “Last year,” someone piped, “In third grade,” shot another, “My parents told me the truth when I caught them stuffing the stockings…” A feeling of utter despair came over me, as if someone had dumped a bucket of ice water over me, as if my heart had been ripped out, as if I had suddenly died and was now listening to the many conversations going on around me in an “out of body experience.” My mouth and throat went completely dry as Christie and Julie laughed and talked with their own mothers about when they had been told that there was no Santa Claus… They turned toward me and asked me when I had found out. I gagged, I felt sick; I could feel tears at the back of my eyes yearning to well up on my bottom lashes, but that were being held back by some deep-seeded disgust and disbelief. “I guess I just found out now…” Was all I could muster. A chorus of laughter erupted, the biggest and heartiest laughs came from the mothers of my classmates sitting in front of me; their faces were distorted, their mouths stuck open as far as they could; they howled, their eyes became slits, wrinkles appeared all over their faces.
My classmates passed it up and down the aisle: “Mike still believed in Santa!” “Mike didn’t know there was no Santa Claus!” When they caught their breath, the two North Girls saw my, now, very evident tears. “There, there,” and all that rot, “just talk to your Mom and Dad about it when you get home tonight.” I asked, “Why would they lie to me about it?” More laughter made me clam up quick.
All the way home I stared silently out the window, milling over and over in my mind how my own parents could have been so cruel all these years; how could they have not told me when all my friends seemed to know; why did they set me up for such an embarrassment? I did not discuss it with them; in fact, I went straight to my room after dinner and cried myself to sleep.
Because of this early bedtime, I woke very early and lie in bed; still feeling as if there were a knife in my heart. All of a sudden, a tremendous revelation came over me: all the things that I thought Santa brought me over the years were actually gifts from my parents… They had me prepare two Christmas lists; one for them which consisted of practical, affordable items; and one for Santa of fanciful, extravagant, and expensive items. I assumed this was because Santa’s Elves were somehow able to duplicate them, or recreate them by means of magical powers. I thought back over the items I had asked for from both my parents and from Santa Claus. About $100 on my list for my parents, and about $100 for the things I had written Santa about…
In my family, if you were good each day through Advent, one of Santa’s Elves would ride a single, saddled reindeer to your window and leave you a piece of candy or a Christmas tree ornament, or both if you had been extra good! They would also pick up and deliver letters to and from Santa. I knew my parents’ alarm clocks would soon be ringing to begin the school day, so I wrote a brief note detailing the cruel jest at my expense on the field trip, and asking if the terrible thing I had heard were true… Then, I laid awake under the covers, waiting for the bells and the buzzers down the hall. Within a minute of my Father’s alarm, my door opened silently; a long, thin stream of light from the hallway got wider and wider, the floor boards creaked as he crossed the room, I heard a couple of small sounds at the windowsill, and the door shut… My letter to Santa was gone and, in its place, were a piece of candy and a tree ornament. I lay there, the same feelings washing over me as the day before but then I realized my parents were paying for all those toys and surprises themselves; that they were filling that stocking (the biggest one on the block) for me, that they were making and leaving all those cookies, cinnamon buns, nuts and nutcrackers, gingerbread houses, toys and games, notes from Santa, candies and ornaments…
On Christmas morning, no matter how much we decorated the house ourselves during Advent, there were always twice as many decorations; twice as many presents, and a treasure trove of treats… My God, I wondered, what are they spending, and how can they do all that extra decorating and present wrapping in one night? Christmas morning was so magical; and, in our house, it began at the butt crack of dawn… How could they stay up all night and then cheerfully and gleefully work so hard to make my day so special and last so long? How could they afford to get every last thing I asked for? How could they sneak into my room and leave goodies every night for a month without my ever hearing or seeing them? What were they going to think of that letter I had written to Santa? What would they say to me? What would be their reply? What if Christmas, as I knew it, was over? I heard my Father go into the bathroom, heard him ripping the envelope open, then there was a long, deafening quiet. He came out of the bathroom, and knocked on my door… “Michael; it’s time to get up…” his usual school-morning greeting.
I went to school, completely dejected, sick to my stomach, and ready for the continued jeering of my classmates… When, at last, the long day was done, I did much the same thing as I had the day before; I went to my room and stayed there all evening until I finally fell asleep. When I awoke the next morning, both my windowsills were completely covered with candy, ornaments, toy soldiers, and one giant, ominous-looking envelope decorated with a ribbon and a bow. I opened it very slowly, preparing myself for the inevitable; alas, I thought, this was the last morning on which I would find such a lovely surprise… Tears were already streaming down my face, and my eyes were so inflamed and full that the paper and the writing on it were blurry to me.
“Dearest Michael, your classmates were very wrong. I do exist! I exist in the hearts and minds of children everywhere, I exist in the love that your parents have for you, I exist in the love God had for the world when He sent His Son as a gift into it, I exist in the joy of giving and receiving gifts, I exist in every ‘Merry Christmas’ spoken, I exist in the history of peoples all over the world, I exist in the heart of every person who believes in me. Though your parents must help my work along, though you are growing up, though you may see and hear the things of childhood slipping away…you must remember what Jesus said: ‘whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God as a little child does will not enter in…’ All our love, Mom & Dad, and Santa.”
That Christmas, my eleventh on this earth, was the most magical I ever had and, at 43, with my Father dead 17 years, my Mother 4, and without a thing on my windowsill or stocking full of treats, I still believe; how could it be otherwise? There’s just too much proof…