I believed in Santa Claus until I was 12 years old. I believed that a jolly fat man who lived at the North Pole and was married to Mrs. Claus was watching my every move to determine whether I was going to be on the naughty or nice list. I believed that Santa could circumnavigate the globe to deliver presents to every ‘nice’ child in the world in one 24-hour period. I believed the presents under the tree were from Santa, and were a positive reflection of my behavior for the year.
Of course, I knew that the Santas featured in parades and at the mall were not the real Santa. I knew that Santa was far too busy to sit at the Maple Park Mall from 9-5pm every shopping day until Christmas. They were his helpers, and the rest of the year they worked in the appliance department at Sears.
Christmas Eve, 1991. My sister was perched on the edge of the sofa watching a Christmas movie on mute with a very blank expression. My mom was in her room with the door closed. I sat next to my sister, sipping hot chocolate watching my Dad hang up the stockings with a nail gun. I looked at the fireplace, glowing with a red-blue flame.
‘Yeah?’ The nail gun snapped and Michelle’s red woollen stocking was fixed to the mantle.
‘We have a gas fireplace.’
‘We don’t have a chimney.’
‘So… how is Santa going to deliver our presents?’
He held the gun to the cuff of the stocking and looked at me. ‘Seriously?’
He looked at me with pity in his eyes. I wasn’t sure if it was because I had a really unfortunate haircut (mullet with a permed fringe), or because of my recent report card (all C’s and comments like, ‘Kim is below average in math, spelling and gym.’), or because he had always wanted a son.
I said it again, ‘What?’
Just then my mom entered the room with a stack of gift-wrapped presents. She set them down on the floor next to our 6-foot high Christmas tree. Dad set down his nail gun and helped her push them under the tree. I moved closer. I saw a small box that said, ‘To Kim, Love Mom and Dad’.
It was then. Right then. Everything became clear: The mall Santas; the underwear I never asked for in 1989; the cookies I left on the fireplace mantle that I found untouched on Christmas morning last year; being fairly ‘naughty’ and still getting a decent haul of gifts.
I looked at my dad. ‘Santa’s not real.’ It was a statement. Not a question. I knew the truth. My dad shook his head, and there was that look again. Pity.
My sister jumped up from the sofa. ‘Seriously? You thought Santa was real?’ She shook her head in disgust, forced a hardy laugh and the flopped back down on the sofa. It was then I saw it: a big, fat, watery tear run down her rosy cheek.
‘Are you crying?’ I asked.
Everything became clear: the movie on mute, the blank expression, sitting tight on the sofa. My sister had been waiting for Santa, and she may have been concerned she’d be on his naughty list.
Yes, she tried to explain the tears away… she said she was overcome with emotion watching ‘Miracle on 34th Street’, she said her boyfriend broke up with her two days ago, she said she was pre-menstrual, and she said she had a ‘bad trip’ after taking two tablespoons of cough syrup.
But I knew the truth.
Yes, I may have believed in Santa until I was 12, but my sister believed in Santa until she was 16… and that’s just sad.