If my father had not made me find those house slippers, I might still be making plans to sit on St. Nick’s lap during the upcoming holiday season. Alas, my devotion to Claus was put to rest when I was required to find and wear my house slippers because the hard wood floors were too “cold” to go bare foot. Balderdash—how could my father possibly know whether my feet were cold or not? Well, I guess I have gotten ahead of myself, let me share with you how Christmas for me was forever changed.
Most of my friends, by fourth grade, were firm non-believers in Santa Claus. I was often teased about my evangelistic zeal about the holidays and, as far as I was concerned, its star attraction the man in the red suit. My unwavering faith, would have been extremely upsetting to my Catholic school nuns teachers. That my focus for the holiday season was not on the babe in the manger, but the man in the sleigh, but such was the life of my elementary school self.
Almost all of my friends had older siblings who had schooled them on the ins and outs of this oh so major holiday. I, as an only child, did not have the benefit of a big sister or brother ruining the magic of the season. I would be baited to join in heated debates about Santa—to wit: How could one man circle the globe in one night? What about the folks that did not have a chimney? How could he carry that many toys? And let’s not get started on the reindeer scenario—especially Rudolph. But unwittingly preparing for my future life as a trial attorney I responded with cogent and succinct responses that were quickly rejected by my opposition. Nevertheless, I persisted in my unmovable belief, until one fateful December evening.
Neither of my parents enjoyed going barefoot, so of course their only offspring could not like going barefoot, right? Wrong. I loved going barefoot, much to parents’ chagrin. They were forever buying me the cutest bunny or Pooh or plaid house slippers. That I would love initially, but who wouldn’t love having Pooh attached to one’s foot. Eventually, however, the thrill would be gone and I would lose a slipper and the cycle would start all over again. But this particular Saturday in December my father was not having it. He insisted that I find the lost slipper or not join them for the Saturday night line up on CBS—All in the Family, MASH, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, and my favorite The Carol Burnett Show. It was our Saturday evening ritual to get takeout Chinese and watch CBS. This was serious business. So, I was looking all over the house, under sofas, in closets and under beds. I finally went into my parent’s bedroom to search and while peering under their bed I saw toys, in particular, the game Ting-A-Ling Bingo and a kid- size sewing machine. For the life of me I could not understand why my parents would be keeping toys under their bed—yeah I had drank that much of Santa’s Kool-Aid. Eventually, I found the errant slippers and joined my parents in front of the television console with my own t.v. tray of Sweet & Sour Shrimp; Soul Fried Rice and egg rolls. Not giving my under-the-bed discovery a second thought.
A few days later Christmas morning arrived. Like kids all over the world I woke up Christmas morning anticipating all manner of joy under the tree. The way our house was made, you could see the tree and its bounty from upstairs when you went from my room to my parents. I tiptoed into my parents’ room and yelled SANTA’s BEEN HERE! COME ON! COME ON! And we, well really I, was off to the races. As I think about it, my parents slogged downstairs (probably working with less than two hours sleep). I tore around the tree looking at the treasures Santa had left. Giddy with excitement and anticipation when I spotted it—duhn duhn duuuuhhh—Ting-a-Ling Bingo! And just to the right, a kiddie sewing machine! Whaaa? Wait a minute, there’s the Easy Bake Oven, too. Oh No. Oh No. Is this possible? I remember just looking at the gifts going I saw these just a few days ago. And then I remember it hitting my like slug to the chest. My eyes welled up and I started crying and my mother, worry in her voice, asked, “What’s wrong?” And even then I was good on my feet-- lied and said, “I’m just so happy, I guess.” And she smiled with relief. I remember I felt like I had to fake it, because of the expectant look on my parents’ faces--We did good, right? You got what you wanted, right? But it was such a sad Christmas for me. We all know faking it is so unsatisfactory.
I realized, even then somehow, that if I told my parents about my new forbidden knowledge it would be the end of the magic for them, too. I had a child-like revelation of how Eve must have felt with her forbidden knowledge and the desire to hide her knowing from her heavenly parent. But unlike God, my parents were not omniscient and I kept it to myself for two more years.
I was in sixth grade and my mother sat me down at Thanksgiving and said, I have something to tell you…in retrospect I think they were worried I would be entering junior high school still believing in the jolly old elf. I am amused when I imagine their pillow talk discussion on how to tell their twelve year-old daughter there was no Santa.
So what is the takeaway? One, I am so grateful to my parents for the gift of Christmas magic. Their holiday joy and traditions made it such a treasured time for me. Two, I am glad that I did not spoil their joy by blabbing about what I knew. Three, while I was focused on toys as a kiddo, through them I have come to find the real meaning of Christmas and the true gift of the holiday—for which I am eternally grateful (literally). So as we enter into another holiday season, my prayer for everyone, everywhere is the joy and magic of the season that will lead us to everlasting peace and God bless us, every one.