Life Matters

To Santa and beyond (for adult eyes only)

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Most of us of Christian faith believed in the light, magical Santa Claus. My realization that there was no Santa happened on the day before Easter when I was seven years old. Friends and I were playing hide and seek in our house, and my hiding space of choice was my mother’s closet. I opened the door and plopped in the back corner…right on top of a cellophane wrapped Easter basket! I could feel the jelly beans fall out, trickling down my legs, and the weight of my body squishing the basket with a sickening sound. As the marshmallow peeps were flattened, so were my childhood fantasies. No Easter Bunny? That meant there was no Santa Claus!

This was a good realization because Santa seemed to be unfair to me. If he was omnipresent, how did he not know what I wanted to Christmas? Even when I sat on his lap and told him…repeatedly…and wrote letters…repeatedly…he still did not bring me that all-important, desperately desired, Barbie Doll for which I yearned. The Santa who came to my house mirrored my parents’ obsessively frugal ways and always brought disappointing gifts…a t-shirt, hair ribbons, and small bottles of shampoo (which had the name of hotels on them.) As a child, it was difficult to understand why my friends received wonderful gifts of Barbie Dolls, but Barbie houses, Barbie cars and tons of Barbie accessories.

It wasn’t until the realization that Santa Claus did not exist that I understood that my parents had been responsible for my gifts, and it was easier to understand their significance. It wasn’t that Santa thought I was somehow less worthy than my friends, or even because my good behavior wasn’t appreciated, it was because our family life was very different than most other families. Amazingly, I even took some solace in the fact that my undemonstrative dad, on his work trips, was thinking of me when he brought home the shampoos.

The whole concept of “Santa” has been difficult for a few of my children. Dinora, going through a particularly rough psychological phase, was petrified that Santa could be coming into her house and possibly her bedroom. At the age of five she screeched with fear and tears ran down her cheeks, which was not mitigated by my eventual admission that Santa wasn’t “real” whereby she started to wail even harder! Steven, with his autistic brain, never admitted that Santa existed. He was used to his strict schedule, and gifts from a stranger were not a welcome change. He would wake up every Christmas morning, walk by the Christmas tree under which the gifts sat, go down to the kitchen to grab breakfast, sit in the family room to watch The Animal Planet on television, the same thing he did every day. He never acknowledged or looked at the brightly colored tree or his gifts, and every year they would get packed up into a Santa bag and put away until the next Christmas, when he would again ignore them.

Marie, I am embarrassed to admit, was a young teenager who still believed in Santa Claus. Because she came to us at a later age, and she is deaf and developmentally delayed, the concept of Santa was a fact, and she never “heard” anything different. On Christmas Eve, not too many years ago, I put out large individual bags of gifts from “Santa”, which included one expensive item for each child, (a DVD player, Gameboy, camera and so forth,) and many smaller, personal gifts. On Christmas morning, Marie woke up before all of us and deftly went through the bags, taking out all the expensive items and putting them in her bag, leaving her siblings with only minor items. When hubby and I woke up, she excitedly showed us the bulging beyond full bag of wonderful gifts Santa had brought her; a DVD player, Gameboy, and camera! She insisted she had been really, really good all year! It was finally time to tell her the truth.

This is a cautionary tale. Santa means a lot of things to a lot of different children. Let’s not let the emphasis of gifts from a stranger overshadow the true meaning of the season.

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