It pains me to say it, but my daughter is a skeptic. At the ripe old age of four, the little beast was already questioning me about the veracity of Santa Claus, a story that seemed a little far-fetched to her. She still asks me about unicorns and fairies and witches like she expects a straight, no-nonsense answer. Which just goes to show how well she knows her old mom.
I believed in Santa Claus for so long that Santa made the natural transition from literal man with presents to spirit of giving and all things magnificent, and that sort of belief doesn’t happen by accident.
It was right about that time when the other kids were starting to question the magic of Christmas. Word was going around day care that Christmas was about Christ, and Santa was just a trick your parents played on you. Some older kids were sounding awfully confident that our parents were taking the liberty of bullshitting us and, knowing my parents, I could see how that might be the case. I didn’t want to believe those rotten kids, but the big night was looming, there was a rock tumbler I’d been eyeballing in the toy catalog, and I both longed and feared to know the truth.
I obviously couldn’t ask my mom. My mother would actually dress up as the tooth fairy in case we woke up during quarter delivery. Childhood magic doesn’t instill itself, people.
My dad, on the other hand, would forget completely and then claim that damned tooth fairy left the money under his pillow by accident. Dad basically killed the tooth fairy for me, and I was afraid Santa was next.
It was Christmas eve at Grandma Ping’s. The tree was three feet tall and plastic, the wine was flowing, the gifts were piled high. But should there already be so many presents? On Christmas eve? My suspicions were roused.
It was that interminable time between finishing dinner and opening presents, when the adults just wouldn’t stop talking and pouring wine, and cognac, and having pie, and then coffee. Suddenly, Santa himself burst into the kitchen through the garage door with a grin brighter than the tree, Ho-ho-ho-ing. His beard was practically iridescent, his red suit worn, and he was carrying a pink bike with a woven plastic basket and bright white tires and my brain basically exploded. Just popped, right in my head. Glitter came out my ears. He was in and out in a flash, hugs all around, surprisingly tan and ruggedly handsome for his age. His coat was still cold but his breath was warm with whiskey when he handed me my new bike, cheeks flushed and eyes actually twinkling, just like the story said. He was in a hurry – it was x-mas eve after all – but he wanted to deliver Pink Thunder in person. Despite the rainbows bursting over my head, I had the presence of mind to do a quick head count. Every last uncle was accounted for. No one had slipped out and put on a Santa suit. St. Nick dropped a few polite hints about what a pain in the ass it was when people celebrated early, and then he was gone. I heard sleigh bells.
I clutched my new bike. My brothers glared at me in shock and envy. The evidence was absolute and incontrovertible. Santa Claus existed. He’d been in my house. The real deal. He smelled like whiskey. He was, in fact, a very good family friend (most of whom smell like whiskey) doing my dad a solid, but I didn’t find that out for many, many years.
After that night, my faith in magic was unflappable. Belief was cemented in me. (Incidentally, so was a future love of brown liquor.) I think dad’s friend saved Santa for a lot of other kids too, kids forced to listen to my rabid proselytizing come the new year.
I’d like to pass along that brand of crazy to my kids, but I married an Engineer and none of our friends own a Santa Suit, so I guess I’m on my own in that department. My tooth fairy costume should be here any day now.