By Michael P Coleman
I’ll probably never forget the year I was told that there was no Santa Claus. Well, actually it was the year that my mother told me that she didn’t believe in him. If it’s not too late for your and yours, I’ve got a great way for you to avoid having “the conversation” with you and your kids. It worked beautifully for me and mine.
I’d suspected that something wasn’t as it appeared for a few years, from the day I discovered a brand new 2XL robot tucked away in my parent’s closet. (Anybody else have one? It was a great interactive, educational toy that was kinda our generation’s iPad — except it was more of a glorified, tricked out 8-track player.).
When I found the same robot among the toys that Santa had left me a few weeks later, I pretended to be thrilled while masking just a trace of sadness. One of the things that I’d come to believe in didn’t appear to be real.
A couple of years later, I guess my mother had grown weary with the Christmas ruse, so she sat me and my younger sisters down and gave the three of us the skinny on the fat dude — or, at least, her take on him. I just nodded politely and uttered a diminished “ok.” My baby sister, who was The Material Girl LONG before pop icon Madonna claimed the title, had a single, simple question for Mother: “Will I still get toys for Christmas?” she implored.
Having assured Susan that she would be receiving gifts and that, yes, and all would be right in The Material Girl’s world, Mother turned to my other sister, Karen, whose beautiful brown eyes had begun to well up. Mother asked “What are you thinking, honey?”
“Are you going to tell me there’s no Easter Bunny either?” Karen sobbed, as tears began to stream down her little face.
In response to Karen’s crying, I did what any card-carrying big brother would do: I laughed hysterically and said some version of “Yes, you fucking idiot. There’s no six foot tall rabbit who sneaks into the house in the dark of night and lays chocolate eggs!” Mother was then left with the two-pronged chore of assuaging Karen’s sadness and slapping me upside the head.
Karen just was not READY! It was all too much for her little mind to take!
As the years passed, I never forgot the memory of little Karen falling apart with the “realization” that there was no Santa Claus. (I STILL give her a hard time about it, in fact!) I never told my parents, but I also began to question everything they told me after that day. “If you’d lie to me about Christmas, what ELSE are you lying to me about?” I secretly wondered.
Years later, after I grew up, married and had two girls of my own, I dreaded the day when my daughters found out I’d lied to them about Christmas. I couldn’t imagine bringing the kind of pain to Janet and Kristina that Mother had inadvertently brought to my sister Karen.
So I decided not to, and to let my girls in on “it” from the beginning. They’ve always known that “Dad” is how they should refer to me, especially in public, but that I am secretly and unequivocally Santa Claus.
I began setting the stage weeks ahead of time each year. I stopped shaving at Halloween, so that by Thanksgiving and the arrival of “Santa” during the televised annual Macy’s parade, I sported an impressive set of Christmas whiskers.
When each of my girls came home from school asking questions after a Grinch-like friend had told them “the truth” about Santa, I calmly told them, with a well-timed wink, that their friends simply didn’t know what they were talking about.
Calmly and through hushed tones — so no one around us could hear! — I told them that Santa Claus DID exist in the form of an African American man who did in fact leave gifts for them as they slept on Christmas Eve, and I shared that “secret” with my kids, telling them that they had to promise not expose “my truth” to the world. My little ones loved it. What kid wouldn’t like to be in on a secret like that with their dad?
As Christmas approached each year, I justified putting on a few extra pounds during the holidays. I had to look the part, didn’t I? Gimme another piece of fried chicken, and put some gravy on that biscuit! When my girls and I saw “Santa” at multiple shopping malls, I assured them that they were all some of Santa’s well-meaning helpers and not the real article, as again I was 100% sure that Santa was African American.
Each year, I added an annual task to the end of the Christmas Eve toy set-up after my kids had gone to bed: I shaved that beard I’d grown. I will never forget the first time Janet rubbed my smooth face on Christmas morning and asked “Daddy, where’s your beard?” With a final Christmas wink, I told her I wouldn’t need it again until next year. And each time I answered a question like that, with a finger to my lips, I formed a bond with my girls and created memories to last a lifetime.
How do I know that? Well, my girls and I still keep the annual tradition, and I never had to have “the conversation” with them. While I keep it a little more trimmed than I used to when my girls were little, I still grow the Christmas beard every year, in part as a reminder of a magical few, fleeting years with my daughters. A few years ago, my adult kids actually woke me up at 4am on Christmas Day, rubbing my newly clean-shaven face and squealing about the gifts Santa Claus had left for them!
Speaking of presents, I added one more tradition to the mix as my girls grew up. As I scaled back on the gifts I left under the tree for them, I started spending a little money every year giving to others. It’s become a vital part of our family’s Christmas tradition. Some years, it’s a contribution to one of my favorite non-profits. One year, I paid the balance for the cart of groceries that cost twenty or so dollars more than the shopper in line in front of me had to spend. And this morning, I bought a cup of coffee and a sandwich for the guy standing in line behind me at my local coffee shop.
I also make myself a little easier to spot on the street, having added a post-Thanksgiving Santa Claus hat to my seasonal Christmas get-up. I pull it out with the Christmas decorations on Black Friday, and I wear it all month when I’m out running errands, shopping, walking the dogs, or whatever. The number of people who’ve smiled “Hey, Santa” seems to have sharply increased this year. Maybe we all need something — or someone — to believe in.
And lest you wonder, yes, I get choked up when I watch Miracle On 34th Street every year. I prefer the 1994 remake to the 1947 original. The courtroom scene gets me every time!
While I’m looking forward to shaving again early this December 25th, I’m happy and proud to have raised children who, as adults, still believe in Santa Claus. One day, if I’m blessed, I’ll have grandchildren, and I can’t wait until they ask Grandpa about the fat guy and watching their faces light up when they learn that they’re related to him.
This feature was written by freelancer Michael P Coleman, who has a long night ahead of him this weekend!