The truth of Christmas

My folks tried their best to keep Santa Claus alive for me as long as they could and, I have to say, they did a damn good job.

I can remember when I was around five, living in Houston, my sister and I had just gone to bed. At that time we shared the same room since there was only a year apart between us.

We had left out cookies and milk, as was the tradition, and were snuggled in our beds. This was the first time my stepmother and stepbrother were celebrating with us. Ken, my stepbrother, was 15.

As I lay there wondering what Santa might be bringing me, I started to hear bells jingling and thuds on the roof. I couldn’t believe it. I was awake as Santa and his reindeer were delivering my toys! I immediately woke my little sister, who could sleep through anything.

To say I was excited is very much an understatement.

As I was waking her, my father walked in the room. He asked if I heard Santa Claus on the roof. We didn’t have a chimney, so I was worried Santa wasn’t getting in. My father said not to worry, that Santa had magic and would get in as long as I stayed in bed. A few minutes later more jingling bells and footstomps were heard by me, then silence.

I somehow fell asleep, but next morning I was the first up. I crept out to the living room where the Christmas tree was and, sure enough, the cookies and milk were gone. Only crumbs were left.

It is crazy how well I remember this morning.

Soon I had the whole house up and we celebrated Christmas.

That was the only time I heard Santa visit our home.

My father got transferred to Washington D.C. when I went into 4th grade. It was a very different climate and I got to enjoy my first white Christmas our first year there. I also lost a bit of childhood innocence.

Santa Claus visited my family every Christmas while I lived in Houston, leaving cookie crumbs and an empty glass.

Although the evidence was clear Santa came, something wasn’t quite right. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. He was great about getting me what I wanted on my Christmas list, but any outrageous request, like a horse, was not granted.

There is a chance I heard in school Santa Claus was made up, but I honestly don’t remember. What I do remember was my family getting ready for Christmas night service and the repercussions that followed.

We were not Catholic, but my father had us go to church Christmas Eve service and the Christmas morning service.

I got into one of my suits that were reserved for mostly going to church as it was turning close to 9 pm. The service was at 10 pm and the church was a couple miles away.

A fact to interject at this time.

My stepmother, whom I loved tremendously, had a notorious trait of taking forever to get ready for church. More than once did I watch my father get frustrated at his wife’s inability to be ready on time.

My father was extremely punctual and it was not uncommon for him to have the children rounded up and in the station wagon waiting while she was still getting ready. On some occasions, he would go back inside to hurry her up.

So this white Christmas Eve, my sister and I found ourselves waiting in the car as my father went into get my stepmother out the door quicker. The Kingswood Estate station wagon was roomy and warm, but I felt something strange was going on after my father was gone for over 15 minutes. Usually, when he went in, they would come out together within 10 minutes at most.

I don’t know exactly how long they were in the house, but it seemed like a solid half hour.

We went to church like normal and when we returned after midnight, low and behold, Santa had already come.


We opened our presents as usual and I observed the cookies were eaten and the glass was empty. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that Santa hadn’t really come.

Here is the part I remember like it was just a few hours ago.

I went into my parents’ bedroom and found my father getting ready for bed. I am not even sure I wanted the answer, but I had to ask. I wanted to know the truth. I wasn’t a little boy any more.

“Dad, is there really a Santa Claus? Did he really come tonight or was that you and Mom?”

His look became serious. I could tell he was considering his words.

“Mike, you are right, it was us who put out the presents tonight. You are also right, there is no Santa Claus. Just don’t tell your sister because she still believes.”

I can remember thinking that learning the truth was not exactly what I wanted. I had actually wanted my father to say yes and assure me my childhood hero existed.

So this meant the Easter Bunny and tooth fairy were not real, either. So much magic disappeared that evening.

I took in a life lesson. Don’t want the truth too badly on some things, because you might just get it.

Still, learning there was no Santa wasn’t terrible, because it is a part of growing up. I learned the art of giving that night, too. I was going to do my best to let my sister believe in Santa for another year, possibly two. I realized Christmas wasn’t about being a good boy and being rewarded from a man from the North Pole. Christmas is about family and loved ones getting together and expressing how much they care for one another by giving thoughtful gifts to one another.

That isn’t a bad thing to take in at the age of nine.

Merry Christmas.


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