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Sleeping with the enemy

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013 11:56 a.m. CST

Is there such a thing as Santa Claus?

I, like most kids who celebrated Dec. 25, wondered with keen curiosity whether the magical man with a belly full of jelly was real. I would use my best 6-year-old Holmesian detective skills to deduce whether reindeer really could fly and a fat man could fit through a chimney. But the red-nosed truth consisted of many layers, and my Harriet the Spy backpack of spy gear just didn’t provide the answers I sought.

Some years, there was no doubting good ol’ Santa. When I was 7, I was determined to stay awake and catch either Big Red or my lying, sniveling parents in the act. I curled my body around the base of the tree and lay awake with a book and a flashlight. When I awoke Christmas morning, I was surrounded by presents. There’s no way my klutzy parents could’ve elegantly tiptoed past their sleeping babe. Proof! And I went on believing.

But then, there were other things about Santa that didn’t quite make sense. For one, he used the same wrapping paper as my parents. And worse, he was very inconsistent. Sure, presents from jolly old Saint Nick showed up under my tree every year, but the percentage always changed. Some Christmases, I would wake up to find a treasure-trove of gifts under the tree that were primarily from my parents. Just a dinky gift or two from the man in red. Other years, it felt as if my parents had forgotten all about me. Thank goodness Kriss Kringle had pulled through, or there would have been nothing under the Christmas tree!

I still remember the year my dad didn’t buy me a single Christmas gift. I was devastated. My dad pointed out that Santa had bought me a charm necklace that said “Daddy’s Little Girl” and a mug with a picture of my dad’s and my face on it.

“Santa thinks I’m your little girl, but you don’t!” I screamed. “Santa cares about me more than my own daddy.” I cried. And my dad looked as if he might cry, too.

A few years later, the time had come to ask the question no child wants answered.

“Mom, is Santa real?”

“What do you think?”

“I dunno,” I said. “I think you just write Santa’s name on a bunch of presents you bought.”

“Well, Santa is a magical being you can choose to believe in or not,” my mom said. Then, in complete honesty, she added, “Let’s put it this way: Yes, I write Santa’s name on some presents, but every year, you and your brother unwrap a few presents from Santa that I don’t remember buying. Maybe it’s Saint Nick.”

I continued to get presents from “Santa,” but now that I was in on the big secret, I got to watch my mom sign Santa’s name on the gifts for my little brother. I quickly understood why the percentage of Santa gifts was always in flux. My mom would buy presents year-round, wrap them immediately and without rhyme or reason, and sign each gift from Mommy, Daddy or Santa.

Come Christmas Day, I would ask my mom which gifts signed by Santa she didn’t remember buying. There was always at least one. And this let me hold on to the magic.

When I was a kid, I thought being an adult at Christmastime would be fun because you would get to know all the Santa secrets. I believed that the biggest perk of being an adult at Christmastime would be knowing definitively, once and for all, whether Santa Claus exists.

But I was wrong. Even the adults don’t know for sure.

Let me put it this way: This year, I signed a lot of gifts for my son from Santa. But there were two under that tree that I don’t remember buying.

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