According to my mother, I never believed in Santa Claus. I honestly don’t remember a specific moment when I stopped believing, but I do remember a couple of things that happened that didn’t help.
This is one of those stories.
When I was in Kindergarten, I walked with my father to his car one December morning, as he went to put his briefcase in the trunk. He popped it open, and I immediately saw the box of a brand new Sega Master System sitting inside. Excited to see the video game console that my older brother and I were wanting for Christmas that year, I looked at my father to confirm that it was really for us. He, realizing the surprise was ruined, made me promise to not tell my brother what I had seen in the trunk.
Standing in the driveway, I promised my father that I wouldn’t say a thing to anyone.
And that afternoon, after my latchkey brother and I got home from school, I told him exactly what I had seen in the trunk.
Now, I don’t know what kind of trouble my father got in with my mother for effectively spoiling Santa’s big gift to us that year, but they did put a plan in place to attempt to maintain the illusion of Jolly Old Saint Nick for us.
That year, like every year, we spent Christmas Eve at my paternal grandparents’ house in Cheyenne. I’ve since learned that not all families celebrate the same way, but for the Yosts, we would open family gifts on Christmas Eve. My brothers and I would get a new sweatsuit from our grandparents to wear to bed that night and a gift or two from our parents. This way, Christmas morning was exclusively for the kids to open their presents from Santa, who always brought the biggest and best gifts.
This particular year, however, a new Christmas Eve activity was added to the agenda. My aunt, a fantastic classical pianist, led us in the singing of Christmas carols at the piano in the dining room. The piano sat next to these huge windows that looked out onto the patio and the side alley. During one of the songs, we noticed someone walking alongside the house, down the alley. He had a long white beard, was wearing a red suit, and was carrying a sack on his back.
It was Santa!
Surprised, I ran outside, trying to catch him before he turned the corner. But alas, by the time I made it out the front door, I couldn’t see him anywhere.
We all went back inside, finished singing carols, and then opened some presents. I then put on my new sweats and got ready for bed. Like most Christmas Eve nights, I probably didn’t sleep very much, anticipating the bounty awaiting me on Christmas. But eventually in the early morning, my family all met up again in the living room to see what Santa had brought the kids.
And can you guess what he brought us this year? That’s right: a Sega Master System! And it looked an awful lot like the one that was in my father’s trunk that one morning!
At no point did my parents try spin a story that Santa had dropped it off with them early because he had too many presents to deliver on Christmas Eve, or that, I don’t know, he was afraid of keeping it around because Prancer had started stealing presents to then sell on the Black Market to fund his troubling new crack addiction.
Instead, they told my grandparents about the premature Sega unveiling, and then my grandfather paid some dude a couple hundred bucks to dress up like Santa on Christmas Eve and walk past the window. And then, I guess, I would just forget what I had seen in the trunk a couple of weeks earlier.
I didn’t forget, though. But my world view wasn’t shattered by any of this, either. (Maybe because my mom was right and I never really believed to begin with…) I was genuinely excited when I saw Santa walking down the alley that night, because I don’t think I was ever opposed to the idea of Santa existing; I just didn’t believe that he was ever responsible for the presents that were waiting for me on Christmas morning.
In the end, I didn’t really care because regardless of who they were from, I still got presents. And that year, we got the Sega Master System.
(I’d bet my grandfather would have liked to know this before he paid that guy, though.)
I think I should make it clear that I don’t like telling this story (and I do like telling it) because I like pointing out how my parents didn’t do themselves any favors in trying to keep the Santa illusion alive. And they really didn’t. A few years later, they managed to leave out the receipts from Target that included the bikes that Santa brought us that year.
(Okay, maybe that used to be part of it why I liked telling the story. But then I became a father myself and now I’m on the other side in trying to maintain the whole magic of Santa for my daughter.)
I like telling the story because despite everything that happened and my disbeliefs from the beginning, I still love Christmas. And I still loved the exciting sleepless nights where I’d get up multiple times to sneak down to the living room to see what we were getting, and then come back to relay it to my brothers. (One time, I even walked face-first into a wall on my way back to my room.) There is really nothing I have experienced since like that anticipation for Christmas morning.
I hope my parents knew how they were responsible for that excitement, even while I knew that it was all from them and not some jolly fat guy from the North Pole.
And I hope that I can provide the same excitement for my daughter, along with, you know, an appreciation for what we’re actually celebrating.
Finally, I hope my grandfather knows how he’s the true hero of this story because he shelled out some serious cash all because his eldest son couldn’t hide a present properly.