Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Memories of Believing in Santa Claus

Nowadays it's, uh, fashionable for some parents to discourage their kids from ever believing in Santa Claus.

I'm sure that these parents mean well. They're probably uncomfortable lying to their kids, or maybe they have an unpleasant memory of finding out the truth themselves, and want to save their children from the same fate.

At the other end of the spectrum were my parents, who went to almost ridiculous lengths to make us believe in Santa Claus.

And I'm sure glad they did.

Years later, I'm still impressed at how much trouble they went to.

There were benefits in having us believe. During the whole year, Santa's name would be invoked if my brothers and I were misbehaving. "Santa Claus can see what you're doing, you know," admonished my mother on a few occasions. I remember wondering just how good a memory he had, if he witnessed something that happened in the summer.

As it got closer to Christmas, my siblings and I made up our list of presents that we wanted. The understanding was that Santa Claus would bring some of it, and my parents would buy some of it.

It never occurred to me to question why we were supposed to look through the Sears catalogue when making our lists.

My parents also deftly handled the most confusing aspect of the whole Santa Claus mythology: Why are there so many Santa Clauses all over the place, and why do some of them look so phony? My parents convincingly explained that Santa Claus couldn't be everywhere at once, so he has helpers.

I bought that explanation hook, line and sinker. I imagined an army of these anonymous Santa look-alikes, all on-call to fill in for the Big Man, but sharing none of the glory and definitely not living at the North Pole. (They were just out there in America ready to be summoned for action, in the pre-beeper 1960's.)

As far as my brothers and I were concerned, the only real Santa Claus was in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, and we had to sit through the whole thing just for a glimpse of him at the very end.

But as expected, it was Christmas morning when my parents really shined in their effort to make us believe.

My brothers and I would wake up, and sit up in bed while we heard lots of footsteps and rustling coming from the living room. I can still see my younger brother Ed looking at me in awe and exclaiming, "Santa!"

My parents were quite cagey. Before we could come out and possibly 'catch' Santa Claus in the act, we had to get up, go to the bathroom and wait until we were all in our robes. I remember being annoyed and impatient that my sister (who was older and a non-believer by then) didn't seem to be as enthused as us.

But once my siblings and I were all ready and waiting for the sliding door in the hallway to be opened, it was SHOWTIME!

My father would ring the doorbell several times, and let out a very convincing "HO HO HO" as my mother opened the sliding door and we all rushed through the hallway to the kitchen. "Look out the window!" my mother would say, as we ran from window to window hoping to get a glimpse of Santa Claus in his sleigh. "No, look over here – is that him?'

One year, a plane happened to be going over the house (don't forget, our house was on the approach to the Lorain City Airport) and we mistook a red light on the plane for Rudolph's nose!

After we excitedly ran around for a few minutes, we would finally realize the futility of our effort and settle down to open presents.

But before that, we would check to see if Santa Claus ate the cookies we left him. Not only would we find an empty plate, but also a handwritten note done in a very flowery style that I've never seen my mother use since. (I know it wasn't my father's handwriting because we never would have been able to read it.)

Thus with the note, we had actual forensic evidence of Santa Claus' existence!

****
At some point, the time finally came for my mother to tell me there was no Santa Claus. (It's not true that I was already in high school.)
She pulled me aside in the living room and told me the news. I remember being crushed and angry and a little embarrassed for being so gullible. "No Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy either?" I asked.
My mother shook her head.
"But why?"I asked. "Why did you tell us all that if it wasn't true?"
I remember her exact words. "To make it more fun for you."
I then thought of the Christmas lists made up of things from the Sears Wish Book. "You mean, you and Dad bought us all that stuff?"
She nodded.
Then I really felt like crap. "I thought all that stuff was free!"
Anyway, my mother pointed out to me that my younger brother still believed in Santa Claus, and that she was counting on me to continue the charade, to which I agreed. Ed got to enjoy a few more years of Santa Claus.
Looking back, I now see that creating that magical fantasy world for us – of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy – was one of the best gifts that my parents ever gave me. It broadened my mind and imagination, and well, was a lot of fun that I'll never forget.

I hope today's parents never think it's too silly to give their kids that same gift of magic.

5 comments:

Ken said...

Dan we grew up in a golden age. Kids who believe in Santa Claus also know how to surf the net. The innocence of our day is long gone. Except here in Texas.

Dan Brady said...

Kids probably still leave cookies out for Santa, but instead of a handwritten thank-you note, they get a personal email that they can print out and enjoy! Ugh.

Ed said...

The same in Cinci as in Texas; there's no sliding door or dawdling sibling in the way of the presents, but plenty of Brady family traditions continue (minus a Sears Wish Book).

Sandnmypants said...

Unfortunately, my grandchildren are being brought up to not believe in Santa. I feel so bad. It was such an exciting and magical time for me as a child. It makes for very difficult situations at family gatherings.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, you bring back long lost memories of a simpler time!