Being a seven-year-old is never easy.
Being a seven-year-old with major Santa doubts at Christmas is brutal.
As the sparkly holiday made its grand appearance, I began to notice Santa everywhere. He was at the mall, the grocery store, even driving a car on the freeway. How could one man -- even a magical one -- be all over the place at the same time?
I sat on his lap at a church Christmas party and told him my wish for a new doll, despite my growing skepticism. A kid can never be too careful when it comes to presents.
But deep down I knew it wasn’t really him.
The guy was wearing black sneakers instead of boots.
There were too many Fake Santas to count. Some had blue eyes, others had brown. Some beards were shiny white, others were dingy yellow. Some were so heavy there was barely room for a kid to sit down, others seemed stuffed with pillows. I didn’t know how I had fallen for their act so many years.
My mom said all of these people were Santa’s helpers, letting him know who was naughty and nice, telling him what kids wanted for Christmas. Soon, I began to wonder about Santa’s toy factory. Did he really build name-brand toys at the North Pole? The exact same ones I saw in the stores? It didn’t make sense.
The yuletide doubts crept in.
By Christmas Eve I was convinced my parents were filling my stocking. My little brother still believed in the jolly old man, so I kept my opinions to myself. Plus, I didn’t want to hurt my chances of receiving a few good presents, just in case my theory was all wrong.
One night, after we were in our pajamas and the Nativity Story had been read, my dad said he wanted to take a walk. My older brother and I followed him out into the darkness and crunched through the snow, shivering in our pajamas and moon boots. We crossed the deserted, icy street and hid around the corner of our neighbor’s house, right next to the water meter.
My dad didn’t tell us why we were there, or what we were looking for. We waited in silence, looking up and down the empty streets, watching our breaths make little frozen clouds every time we blew out. An airplane flew overhead and my brother and I wondered out loud if it the flashing red light could possibly be Rudolf’s nose.
Suddenly, three houses down from ours, Santa Claus walked out of the front door and slowly made his way to the next house. He had a list, and seemed to be checking it twice. His big black bag was slung over his shoulder and the bells on his boots jangled lightly through the crisp, still air.
I watched him walk right into the next house, Ho-Ho-Ho-ing loudly. He would be at our house soon, and we weren’t in bed asleep, like good kids were supposed to be when Santa came. We ran across the street, tying not to slip on the ice, and hurried inside our lit-up house. I wondered where he hid his reindeer and sleigh. Maybe it was parked on someone’s roof.
My brother and I told my mom what we had seen, and she laughed, then said we had better go to bed. Suddenly the front door opened and in walked Old Saint Nick. My little brother was sitting on the top step of the staircase wearing only underpants, and he screamed in surprise. Santa asked us if we had been good kids, and told us he would come back later when we were sleeping. After he closed the door, we scuttled around and rushed to our beds.
As I lay in the darkness, trying to force myself to fall asleep after having such a huge adventure, I realized it didn’t matter if Santa was real or not. The toys and treats in our stockings were fun, but it was the excitement and anticipation, the warmth and love that created the real magic of Christmas.
And I definitely believed in that.