Spoiler Alert – Don’t read this to your kids!!!
Well, here it’s now been nearly two months since my last post. No excuse for that, is there? At first I thought it was because I had run out of my really good Wyoming stories – the stories that make my time in Wyoming sort of unique – that’s what this blog is for, after all. But then I realized that wasn’t quite it – I had only told you my favorite stories from my childhood and adolescence. There are many more good stories to be sure – I just have to make sure I don’t let this blog devolve into stories about the year we had goose for Christmas instead of ham. I mean seriously.
And speaking of Christmas, we just unwrapped another holiday season, didn’t we? Thank goodness. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in saying that the holidays always seem to come with not only holiday cheer but also a certain amount of a special kind of trepidation. We have to plan the time, the place. The food. The gifts. The money for all of this. Try to get bargains online or at the stores. The shopping, I mean, my God, the shopping.
Because of all of the tragedies in the news this year, all the 2012 doomsayers, etc., I guess I had a bit of a hard time really getting in to the holiday spirit this year. Normally, I’m the guy who is first to give out the Christmas cards, and play Christmas music as I trim the tree and wrap the presents. It has been noted that as the resident atheist, I am frequently the one in the office with the most holiday cheer of anyone, which I might add is just sad, people. Anyway, this year, I don’t know, it just all felt kind of forced.
Not like when we were kids. I really do believe that old saying that Christmas is for kids. Those years of roughly 1 – 8 in most young lives when we wait for Santa to work his magic on Christmas Eve, and the mystery and joy on Christmas morning when we find that he has – that’s the true spirit of Christmas, isn’t it? Joy and innocence. Maybe that was the thing this year – it seems like there was less joy and innocence this year, didn’t it?
Sort of like as a nation we woke up on Christmas morning and caught Mom putting out the last of the presents and realized that my God, you mean there is no Santa Claus?
Well, we all have to go through that realization, at some point, don’t we?
A young relative of mine still believes in Santa Claus. He’s 12. Seems a bit late, but then I think, you know what? Who in the hell are we to take that away from him? If the kid wants to go on believing in magic for another year or two, then you know what? What’s the harm? An extra year of innocence in a child might just make a difference somewhere along the line, you know?
I myself was 9. Well, 8, but 9 was the official year I finally found out The Truth About Santa Claus. It would have been 8 and that would have been that, except that on the Christmas Eve when I was 8 and finally realized that the jig was up, wouldn’t you just know that the jolly old elf would show up on our doorstep. Seeing is believing, as they say.
Christmas Eve, 1977. Looking through the Montgomery Ward catalog (the nearest shopping mall to my hometown was over 150 miles away) at some of the cool toys that company sold I noticed that the order numbers were circled in ink for the very Tonka farm toys I had specifically asked for. I wondered, if Santa was magic, why did he need order numbers? I always thought he just used the catalogs as a visual aid for what kids wanted. The dude had his own workshop, so why did he need order numbers? And how did Montgomery Ward get all of those presents to the North Pole? Or did Santa just stop by the Montgomery Ward warehouse on his way? Something was up.
Armed with my new and I must say very strong suspicions, I finally confronted my mother about this. She assured me that Santa just used the order numbers to make sure he made the toys each kid wanted and didn’t make any mistakes. That didn’t explain the circled order numbers or the bookmarks in the Montgomery Ward catalog, though. I just wasn’t convinced. The more I thought about it, the more this whole Santa Claus thing seemed like a big sham. Surely our parents would never perpetrate such an elaborate hoax on their own children though. I had to confront Mom again about this.
So I did. How did Santa fit toys for hundreds of millions of children in his sleigh? That would have to be a pretty big sleigh. And why would Santa deliver toys to children in really poor countries whose children didn’t even have enough food? Just saying “He’s magic” wasn’t washing. The more one asked questions about this whole Santa Claus business, the more the whole thing just fell apart like a cheap paper doll. But mom insisted that Santa was real, and he was magic.
Mom brought in the big guns and decided to have dad talk with me about this. The conversation that followed has become a favorite family memory.
Dad: “Now son, your mother tells me you have some questions about Santa Claus.”
Me: “Yeah Dad – there’s no way one man could do all of that in one night. I don’t care if he is magic. There’s just no way. And I know he doesn’t need order numbers out of any catalog.”
Dad: “Son, you’re old enough now. You know that there is no Santa Claus, that he’s make believe, don’t you?”
Me: “Yeah dad, but don’t tell Mom, she still believes.”
What can I say? I guess I was a little slow on the uptake back then. But there it was. 8 years old. And hit with the cold, cruel realization that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, and never did. The Santa in whose lap I’d sat in earlier years at the Outdoorsman Sporting Goods store in town was just a local farmer in a cheap suit and a fake beard. Dammit.
Later that night, I was mulling all of this over with a Pepsi as we read the Christmas story out of the family Bible and sang Christmas carols while stuffing our faces with homemade fudge and Christmas cookies.
That can’t be right – sleigh bells, outside. Louder now.
At first it seemed like I was the only one who heard it, even Mom kept denying it. But then they got so loud that it couldn’t be ignored. There was no doubt about it now – multiple sleigh bells were approaching the house.
We all rushed outside to see what was the matter.
If I live to be 100, I will never forget what I saw outside in the snow. A full red sleigh adorned with sleigh bells, pulled by eight reindeer bigger than life. The sleigh was full of presents and bags of candy and fruit. At command of the sleigh was old Saint Nick himself, larger than life.
You just can’t argue with proof like that. Santa Claus was real.
“HO! HO! HO! MERRRRRRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!” Santa absolutely bellowed as he got out of his sleigh and bounded up to the front door, his arms full of a fruit basket and sacks of candy for us kids. To say that we were excited would be putting it mildly – we were beside ourselves with holiday joy and Christmas magic. As we closed the door to the freezing Wyoming winter, Santa waved goodbye, wishing a Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
I would say that was about as close to a Christmas miracle as I ever managed to get.
What had actually happened was this: One of the older farmers from a farm a couple of miles away had taken it upon himself to gear his horses up to this old sleigh that he had and had decided to fix up and paint like Santa’s sleigh. Some fake antlers attached to the presumably humiliated horses’ heads, a few empty boxes wrapped up like presents, the town Santa suit, and some homemade fruit baskets and bags of candy, and you had a Santa that Warner Brothers would have been jealous of. He had delivered candy to all of the houses and farms with children within five miles of his farm – probably about 10 homes in all. He did it to spread Christmas cheer during a time when the country was in a recession and there were probably a lot of kids in town that weren’t getting much for Christmas. Course I learned all of this later. I also heard he got a nasty cold from doing that, even though he had on layers of insulated clothing beneath the Santa suit. That Christmas memory was probably one of the most cherished Christmas gifts I ever received.
Trouble was, oh, my parents had the worst time after that convincing me that Santa wasn’t real. That’s a pretty tough sale after Santa and all of his reindeer pull up to your front door in a red sleigh full of presents and hands out bags of Christmas goodies.
By the time the next Christmas rolled around and I was 9, we had gotten things all ironed out and I had finally let go of that part of my childhood. My parents asked my brother and I not to tell our younger sister, since she still had a few years of Christmas magic left due her before it would be time for her to realize that the only real Santa Claus is the one that each one of us creates within ourselves to share with others during the Christmas Season.
Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to Everyone!!!!
(and to all a good night……..)