I’m nine years old and I hear the footsteps of my mother making her way through our “railroad” apartment to my bedroom where I’m diligently doing my homework. She arrives at the foot of my bed, December 1, 1979, and asks the dreaded question:
“Michael, you don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore, do you?”
As if I now had a choice…
My mother basically told me (without telling me) that Santa was a sham. To believe now would make me a rube, someone who fell off the turnip sleigh from the North Pole .
“Nah, of course not, mom,” I replied with a smile, as only a nine-year-old affecting machismo could. I was a big boy now and didn’t have time for fairy tales.
But after mom left the room I buried my face in my pillow and cried for hours. Every time I thought of it, my eyes welled up again. Mom had ruined Christmas, and Santa was dead.
Dad to the rescue
Dad came in and saw the red eyes. “What’s wrong, Michael? Why are you crying?”
“Because I want Santa Claus.”
“But you told Mom that you didn’t believe in Santa.”
“I know but I want him, anyway.”
Um, Mom, Dad, the jig is up
Ah, there’s the rub. I had known
that Santa wasn’t real since I was about six, when I heard my parents crash into at least a dozen dressers, doors, and tables while trying to move my Batman’s Wayne Foundation Play-set into the living room. Mom and Dad were Santa.
But while I knew Santa’s secret identity, it was the magic of Santa that was still real, the magic that’s different from a card trick or sleight-of-hand illusion. I wanted the magic of tradition and stability. Santa wasn’t subject to my parents’ human imperfections. Santa was the part of Mom and Dad that I could always count on and that always knew just what I wanted and needed at Christmas time.
I always got what I wanted at Christmas time even though my parents didn’t have a lot of money. How that happened I’ll never know. It had to be Santa (and a lot of overtime).
He was also the guy who always made sure that my parents and sister got what I hoped to get them and couldn’t on my own with my meager allowance. With Santa anything is possible.
Re-enter Mom. “Michael, just because Santa isn’t real doesn’t mean that Christmas is going to change. Christmas is always going to come and it’s always going to be wonderful. It’s Jesus’ birthday, and Santa’s just another way of celebrating that.”
“Oh, okay” I replied, taking a bit of solace in an explanation that I didn’t fully buy.
The constant of Christ
had it right. The birth of Christ is Christmas’ constant, and sometimes I need to remember that on Christmas, God does the impossible—He becomes one of us. I think that’s where my parents put their faith, while I was content, as a child, to put that same faith in Santa, whose accomplishments were—to me—beyond belief.
But that’s also God’s story. God becomes a little baby, entering our sometimes tragic world. Suddenly, people believe in the possibility that the world just might be okay, even in all its brokenness.
Maybe miracles do happen. Impossible, you say? Not at Christmas.
So while Santa may not be a real person, his spirit works for us. I think in a way, the silent little baby Jesus needs this loud, jolly, fat man to remind us that God is among us, fully alive. Santa awakens the spirit of Christ within us with every Ho-Ho-Ho and every impossible wish somehow coming to life.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go clean the reindeer droppings off the roof.