I remember the first time someone told me that Santa Claus didn’t really exist.
Sorry, should I have said Spoiler Alert?
I was in second grade, and it was during recess. Not morning recess mind you, but the afternoon one. I shudder to think how I would have handled this troubling information had it been sprung on me during morning recess, when I was barely awake and hadn’t even had my fruit roll-up yet. It would have been devastating.
But during afternoon recess, with my little boy belly all stuffed full of tater tots and milk, I just rolled with the punches.
“Only babies believe in Santa Claus!”
It came from one of the older boys. I think he was a fifth grader, maybe even sixth. One of the big shots. They roamed the halls of Plymouth River Elementary School with impunity. Dumping books, calling names, and giving people the what for in the lunch line.
“Well what are you? A baby or something?”
The question wasn’t directed at me, it was aimed towards another kid. But instinctively I wanted to make it clear that I was in fact, not a baby, even if this other baby was. I guess I’ve always just been a survivor like that.
“Yeah, everyone knows Santa’s not real.” I said, “Like someone could fly all around the world giving presents to kids in just one night? That would take at least three days. There’s no way.”
But all the while I kept my fingers crossed behind my back. Because you can argue all you want about whether or not the big man exists, but you can’t argue with the time-tested science of Crossies. I figured that I would be in the clear either way. The older boys would think that I had my shit together, and maybe they would refrain from giving me the business on the playground and making me cry for my mommy.
But if Santa was real, well he couldn’t begrudge a boy from using one of the oldest tricks in the books to keep from getting taunted in front of his peers, could he? Santa Claus seems like the kind of guy that would be against bullying. Although Rudolph might disagree there. But I thought it was a foolproof plan.
The bell sounded then, letting me retreat without further conversation back to the safety of my teeny tiny desk. But as the rest of the day dragged on, I found myself wracked with guilt. Had I really just sold Santa Claus down the river in order to impress some older boys so they would like me? Did my finger crossing actually even keep me safe? Or does Santa Claus not play by human rules? I mean I’m not calling him a demon, but his name is an anagram for Satan. Plus you have the whole Claus/Claws paradigm, making a scary situation downright terrifying for a seven-year old boy raised Irish Catholic. Was I messing with an evil that my adorable young mind couldn’t even comprehend? I could barely even concentrate on my Play-Doh.
I went over all the things that I knew for a fact about the situation.
- My parents told me that Santa Claus was real and was always watching me. They said that he saw me when I was sleeping as well as when I was awake. I felt that more than anything, this spoke to their poor parenting skills. Why would they let this old man come into the house and watch their precious young progeny sleep in his tighty whities? There’s something seriously wrong there.
- I knew that Santa always ate some of the cookies that we left out for him every Christmas Eve, and he would always drink all of the beer. In fact he usually would break into the liquor cabinet too. Every Christmas morning, my mother would say to my father, ‘Oh, Santa really got into the hard stuff last night, huh?’ And then they would laugh, and then they would laugh again, and then they would laugh for even a third time. It’s creepy how they did that. They should have just laughed one time, but did it for longer. It’s all about lung control.
- Santa seemed to know what presents I wanted. I would write everything down on a list. Usually I did this in June. I recall one year, being up at 2 am with my brother writing out a list from the Sears catalogue. I never did get that dirt bike, but I got a lot of other things from that list that I had sent to Santa Claus at the North Pole. There was no way my parents could have known what was on the list either, because I sealed it in an envelope and put a stamp on it. Then I gave it to my mother to mail for me. I know you’re probably thinking that my mother just opened the envelope and read the list, right?
Well first off, I don’t appreciate you accusing my dear departed mother of mail fraud, which is a federal offense. And secondly, maybe your mother is the one that is the criminal!!
See that didn’t feel good, did it?
I know for a fact that Mom didn’t open the envelope, because as I said earlier, I never got the dirt bike that was on that list. If she had read that list, I totally would have killed myself on a dirt bike that summer. So I guess it all worked out for the best.
When I got home that night, I must have looked like a seven-year old with the weight of the world on my shoulders. My mother asked me what the trouble was.
Mom: “What’s the matter with you, my favorite child?”
Me: “Mom, is Santa Claus real?”
Mom: “Why do you ask that?”
Me: “Some kids at school were saying that he wasn’t real. They said that parents just say that he’s real to scare their kids into behaving. They also say that parents buy all the presents and put them under the tree pretending that they’re from Santa. Is that true?”
Mom: “Well what do you think? Do you believe in Santa?”
Me: “I don’t know Ma. It seems like someone couldn’t do all that in one night. Just the border crossings and customs searches alone would take up a big chunk of the day. I’m not sure if I believe in him anymore.”
Mom: “Well if you don’t believe in him, there’s no way he can be real. Don’t let anyone tell you that Santa isn’t real. You’re a seven-year old boy, Santa is real if you believe in Santa, don’t listen to those kids.
Me: “But Mom, they’re older boys.”
Mom: “Well they sound like a bunch of dipshits to me. The thing that really matters is what you believe. That’s the only thing that matters.”
I remember trying to stay up at night to see if I could catch Santa in the act, even though I always heard that if he sees you seeing him, he’ll throw acid in your eyes to teach you to mind your business. Christmas acid. I never made it very late. My youthful excitement would leave me absolutely exhausted sometimes. I do recall one night yelling at my parents when they weren’t in bed at one in the morning.
“Santa’s not gonna come if you don’t go to bed!!”
Oh, how they must have laughed at me.
A few years later, when my mother got really sick, my father sat me down.
Dad: “You know there’s no Santa Claus, right?”
Me: “Well, kind of.”
Dad: “Christmas is going to be very small this year. We don’t have the money, and Mom’s in the hospital. You’re old enough to know the truth. I’m sorry.”
Me: “That’s okay Dad. Presents aren’t that important.
I meant it, although I was still kind of bummed out. But presents really aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things, and they really shouldn’t be.
They’re nice, but so’s a hug.
At least that’s what I believe.
And it never hurts keeping your fingers crossed.