One Christmas Eve when I was very young, my brother and I heard him knock over an ashtray in the living room. We didn’t get out of bed though – we were too afraid. We knew he only came once we were asleep, and we didn’t want him to catch us awake.
So we just laid there frozen in our bunk beds until we finally dozed off again. But for years, that was proof that he was real.
No reindeer on the roof.
No sight of them in the sky.
I would lie there waiting for him for as long as I could, but I’d eventually doze off sometime after midnight.
In the morning when I ran downstairs to check under the tree…
“He came! He came!”
And I would wake everyone in the house.
One year it was my brother who woke me. It was about 3:30 in the morning and sure enough, the presents were overflowing from beneath our twinkling tree. Duane woke me up first, and then the two of us ran to wake Mommy and Daddy.
“Yeah! Can we open presents? Please??”
“You can each open one, and then we’re going back to bed until the morning.”
My mother chose two from the pile that looked identical. One had my brother’s name on it, and one had mine.
Inside we each found tape recorders and three-packs of blank cassettes.
My parents went back to bed, and Duane and I set out to master the buttons and record our voices onto the tapes.
“Well… it’s Christmas morning,” Duane announced in a voice that was scratchy from a winter cold. “Mom and Dad went back to bed, and me and Tam are playing with our new tape recorders that Santa brought us.”
“I wanna talk!” I whined from the background.
My brother slid the recorder over to me, and I sang a song I learned from Bugs Bunny:
“I wiss I was in Dixie... Hooway! Hooway! I wiss I was in Dixie… Hooway!”
Lots of giggles followed, and then the loud click of my brother stopping the tape.
We stayed awake playing with our tape recorders until the sun came up. And when my parents finally got out of bed and made some coffee, we were allowed to see what else Santa brought…
When I was a little older, we used to call a phone number advertised on TV to hear a story read by Santa. I’ll never forget the year we called at around 9 o’clock on Christmas Eve. Santa didn’t answer – it was Mrs. Claus:
“Oh my goodness,” she said. “What are you still doing awake? Santa is on his way to New York right now!”
I think our eyes shot out of our heads and ricocheted around the room like superballs. “Santa’s on his way here right now! We gotta go to bed!”
Duane was in 5th grade when his friend John caught his parents putting the presents under their tree. And he told Duane, and Duane told me.
“There’s no such thing as Santa, y’know.”
“Well I’m not telling Mom and Dad that I know.”
“Cuz then I’ll only get half as many presents.”
You see, about half of ours were labeled “From: Mom and Dad” and the rest were labeled “From: Santa.” I figured if I let on that I knew, there went half my stuff.
I was no dummy.
Christmas isn’t quite the same once you don’t believe. It’s fun to get all the presents, of course, but it’s more fun when you believe that something magical happens while you’re sleeping.
I was fourteen when my little brother was born and the magic was rekindled in our house.
When he was eight years old, Mandy was born, and so the magic continued on.
It wasn’t easy with her though… she was an extremely inquisitive child. I had to have very creative and consistent answers to her questions, consistent handling of such things as wrapping paper and handwriting, and even some serious acting skills.
“Mom….. this present says Santa, but it’s wrapped in YOUR wrapping paper.”
My face looked shocked, then even more shocked, then a vision of pure amazement…
“He… touched… our… stuff??? Oh my gosh! I wonder what else he touched!!” I started looking around the room.
“You think he used our tape and scissors too?” I asked. “I wonder if we can fingerprint this stuff?!”
She gasped. “You think he could have done it without his gloves on?”
“I don’t know! This is so cool! Are there any others he wrapped with our paper???”
And so another hole in the amusing charade was filled in, and the magic lived on. Mall Santas, flying reindeer, how the dogs sleep through it all… I creatively explained every piece of the puzzle, or at least presented a sound hypothesis. And when I just didn’t know how to answer, I’d say, “You know, I’ve always wondered about that too. What do you think?”
In the fifth grade she figured it out after seeing a movie on TV. And with that, all the magic collapsed liked dominoes, one after the other – the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny – everything gone in one fell swoop.
She was even a little annoyed that I had lied to her.
Of course, the holiday isn’t really about presents or Santa, and my daughter knows that.
But every year Mandy says to me, “You always made Christmas so great, Mom. I miss when I used to believe.”
And I tell her someday, when she has a child of her own, she can revive the magic all over again.