I remember it so well…
It was fourth grade, in the stairwell of my elementary school on the way back from lunch. A friend wanted to know what I was asking for Christmas, and I replied that I had written a list to Santa – mostly dolls, legos and stationery. The friend looked at me as we puffed up the stairs, holding onto the low banister and said shrilly: “You still believe in Santa?” It was blurted out with all the judgement and laughter of a peer, glad to be much more knowledgeable about the world than me. My naivety recoiled into my chest, and I sprung out with: “No, of course I don’t!” I stood for a moment behind her on the landing, with the sun beaming down through the high, frosted windows, a little knocked down, and a little sad.
Before that conversation, I did believe in Santa, and I had for a while, despite many years of trying to disprove his existence. I had done the work! I had put in the hours of sleuthing around our family home, crawling in all the secret places where gifts would be hidden! I distinctly remember searching the white cupboards of my parent’s very dated 80’s bed frame, whose long, hollow headboard could hide sackfuls of presents. Whenever they were out of the house, I looked and looked! Under the window seats, in the scary attic closets, and under beds. I knew that Santa brought so much stuff for my three sisters and I that there was no way to hide that many gifts easily. If he wasn’t real, there’d be a pile of unwrapped presents somewhere in the house, for sure!
But every time I searched, I turned over the whole home, only to stop at one place: the scary locked room under the basement stairs. I knew where the key was, and I distinctly remember getting it and then facing the gnarled white door with chipped paint and a snaggled hook hanging from the frame. I was scared of the dark (my basement was really scary), and no matter my best effort, I never turned the key. Years later, I now know that that was exactly where my parents had hidden our gifts! I’m not sure if my hesitancy to open the door was out of earnest fear, or because of a desire to keep the illusion going as long as it could. I think it might be the latter…
Like every kid, I loved the magic of going to bed to an empty tree and waking up with the huge surprise of beautifully wrapped presents. There was such hope under that tree – for the doll clothes, a lego kit, a Nintendo game – all the simple dreams of a child. Of course the actual day of Christmas was filled with dashed hopes and overwhelmed meltdowns, but that morning, anything and everything could have been under our tree. I loved that feeling so much that even in college, we had my father take all our presents and carry them down late at night to put under the tree. One year my sister and I woke up to discover an empty tree because Santa slept through the night! We dutifully waited while he (my father, of course) crept down the stairs and deposited gifts along the velvet tree skirt. It was not the gifts that mattered to us. No! Much more important was the magic, the fun, and the surprise!
Of course I know that Santa isn’t real, but despite my fourth-grade classmate’s best effort to shame me into reality, I’m pretty sure I still believe in him a little.
When did you stop believing in Santa? Share your story in the comments below! And if you have a little time, read this weirdly captivating article about the Santa dilemma parents find themselves in these days!