It is a simple question. So why is the answer so difficult? But don’t give up on me. For me to tell this story I will go back to the Christmas tradition I grew up in. Or at least the tradition as I remember it. When people recall their memories of Christmas traditions, they spring from an amalgamation of memories that magically blend into their Christmas memory. I am sure as I retell mine, my brothers and sisters, if they are reading, will tell me they remember it differently. But then, this is my memory.
Christmas Eve always began the same way. We were dressed, uncomfortably, in our finest clothes. If you are imaging a fairly nerdy picture, you are right on target. Once “suited” up, we would all pack into the family Ford Galaxy station wagon, fighting over who would get the “way back” seat, and head to church. Of course not before my father would find an excuse to run back into the house for something he had forgotten. Years later it would become obvious to me that this was the moment Santa got the gifts under the tree. After our performance in the youth pageant at our church, we would receive our gift bag of peanuts and oranges and pack back into the station wagon absorbed in the vision of those Christmas gifts back home under the tree. Not so fast. The traditional Christmas Eve visit to my aunt’s house had to be endured first. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved my aunt and she had a great house and tasty treats, but those gifts were just waiting for our return. After what seemed like an eternity of visiting and Christmas carols played on her incredible church organ, we were finally back on the way home. Once home, it was the mad cap opening of the gifts and then falling asleep on the couch as we watched “A Christmas Carol” with our dad. This became a tradition that carried on into my own family and lasted well into their becoming adults.
But back to the point of this story. This particular Christmas I had placed on my Christmas wish list this incredible, you put it together, metal tabs and sharp edges everywhere, model gas station / mechanics garage master piece. I and my brother had the year before discovered where dad hid our gifts prior to the big day. Knowing the secret, how could I resist? Well I couldn’t and I didn’t. There tucked behind the furnace, in all its glory, was the beautiful brightly colored box holding my model station dream. The secret was kept and all was fine until Christmas Eve. There under the tree was my Santa gift. Yes, you guessed it, the dream model station. So there it was. The reality hit home like a bullet. There really wasn’t a Santa after all. It was my parents, messing with me all along.
Now this blog could stop here, disappointment, realization, despair. Okay, maybe a bit too dramatic. What I learned at that point, besides not snooping around and ruining the surprise, was that my idea of Santa had to evolve. Now I will tell you that it didn’t happen over night. I was still a child for Pete’s sake. It would take some time watching as my younger siblings went through their realization of the Santa process, coupled with enough growing up and observations for me to eventually come to my conclusion.
It turns out that Santa is a belief, no a necessity that lives inside the heart of each of us. When we feed the imagination of a young child, when we reach out to someone in need, when we give to a charity or give our change to the person on the street corner, when we buy the anonymous gift for a coworker or neighbor, then in that act, Santa lives. We become Santa.
Children need no proof that there is a Santa. They don’t need an explanation as to how he can visit every child in the world in one single night. They need no evidence that reindeer can fly . They just know it. For me, every time I see an act of random kindness, every time I see someone open their heart and their wallet, I know it too. Santa lives in everyone of us, and when we get old enough to question the reality, we need to step into the myth.
Well its almost midnight and my grandson is fast asleep. Guess I better get those Santa gifts under the tree. So when did I stop believing in Santa? Simple answer……I didn’t.