Wednesday, December 7, 2011
When I Believed In Santa Claus
I remember exactly where I stood in my kitchen as I told my friend, Courtney, "Well I don't believe in the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny, but I'm not sure about Santa Claus."
My parents are notorious for forgetting that our teeth were hiding anxiously under our pillows. I had taken to writing notes on scraps of paper and taping them--facing out--onto the window. You know, just in case she just happened to fly by. Then there was the fact that all the richer kids in my school bragged about getting twenty dollar bills under their pillows. I hadn't even SEEN a twenty dollar bill, let alone owned one. Suddenly my excitement over having my very own silver dollar seemed silly. I couldn't even buy a Ninja Turtle with it. It didn't take long to put two and two together: a real fairy would be more scrupulous.
The Easter Bunny took a little longer. Easter had been my favorite holiday. It had the early morning excitement of gifts and surprises, with the creativity of dying your own eggs just the way you want them and not sharing them with your siblings, with the shrewdness-showboating of finding things someone had meant to hide from you. Also, there were Cadbury eggs. Santa and his plain ol' walnuts just couldn't compare. But slowly, the excitement began to erode. A bunny? Carrying all this heavy stuff? And how could he get an egg on top of the clock? And how does he get in, anyway? Problem was, there weren't a jillion movies, books, and old-timey newspaper articles to reassure me, give me insider knowledge, or promise that the non-believers can't hear the sleigh bell. That's all saved for Christmas. So Easter was a slow dwindling. I don't remember going from believing to not. Reason just kind of seeped its way in.
But Christmas was different. Each knock-down of Santa Claus was like a little slap to the brain, strong enough that I remember those little moments even now. Like the conversation with Courtney. Or the time I pulled my older sister, Katie, into the bathroom, closed the door, and demanded to know if she believed in Santa Claus. "No," she said. "Phew. Okay. Neither do I," I exhaled. Finally, the truth from someone reputable. I had been lied to for so long by all the people I thought I could trust, I didn't know where to turn. Yet I also knew to keep my mouth shut about it. This was private conversation, not meant for the impressionable ears of John or Hannah who still had a chance at believing. While still unsure myself of the truth, I understood that this was an okay lie, a fun lie, a lie meant for the smallest among us. It never upset me to find out that I'd been lied to. Maybe because I was happy to be on the other side with the adults. The Truth-Knowers.
It feels like a decade later, although it was probably just the following year, my mom came into my room and asked to borrow my green pen "for signing Santa's presents" she said. "You're old enough to know by now," she said, smiling. I smiled back. Of course. Of course I knew. Duh. Pff. Silly. And even though I thought I did, even though I'd already gotten the confirmation from Katie, it was that moment that made it reality. There was no chance now that, like the movies said, I had simply stopped believing. Tim Allen would never give me the weenie whistle to make be believe again. It was a fact: there is no Santa Claus, and my mother was responsible for the swirly green handwriting on all my favorite presents.
There is a magic lost that you never get back when you stop believing. Waking up that morning with proof--tangible proof--that magic exists (and it ate your cookies) is an amazing feeling. It might even be the first strong emotion I ever remember having. The four of us would sit at the top of the stairs of our split-level, surveying the gifts now overflowing from under the tree. Trying to guess whose gifts were whose, and who was the lucky duck to get the one enormous, wrapped present inevitably laying there. Finally, after 25 days of my eyes playing tricks on me, my stocking was definitely full this time. And look! He gave Rudolph the carrot we left, and he even left a note! I'm not sure what kept us from running down immediately. It might have just been our parents demanding we stay there until the coffee had brewed. Whatever it was, I never minded sitting there for a few minutes. After all, we'd been waiting for this moment all year; why let it pass by so quickly?
Of course, it's always nice to get presents, even when you know who really gave them to you. But those first few years have something special to them. It's the only time when you know--for a fact, with proof--that someone is out there who knows you intimately, and is watching over you. It's an innocence you never get back, and a feeling that many people spend their whole lives striving to find again.