I was crushed when I was told, in 3rd grade, that Santa Claus was not real. I wasn’t ready for that information. Some older boys down the street from me cruelly planted the idea in my head on a walk home from school.
“Do you believe in Santa Claus?”
“Do you believe in the Easter Bunny?”
“Do you believe in the Tooth Fairy?” they demanded amidst knowing, malicious snickers.
I shook my head confidently after each question. I was no fool.
“It’s your mom!” the boys exclaimed after each question in a voice that mocked my confidence.
Still, I refused to believe it. I’d thought I’d seen the light of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’s nose in the night. I’d sworn I’d awoken to the bells of Santa’s sleigh in the dark of the early hours of Christmas morning. I used to panic on the way home from my Grandma H’s on Christmas Eve night, afraid that Santa would come to our house and, since we weren’t sleeping, would pass us by. I think my parents used to threaten us with that very scenario to get us to go to bed immediately when we got home. It worked. I would pull the covers over my head and make myself fall asleep no matter how excited I was.
It never once occurred to me that Santa Claus–or any of the other magical entities of holidays and lost teeth–were not real. It seemed absurd that my mom and dad would fool us by telling us about Santa Claus, and then placing the gifts under the tree themselves posing as Santa. I had never even hypothesized such a scenario.
Still, I asked my mom. And she told me the truth. All of it.
I cried. Hard. The tears burned my face and my heart throbbed in utter disappointment. I did not want this knowledge. I was not ready for this knowledge. I liked to believe in magic. And now the magic was gone. I’m pretty sure that that’s about the time that my faith in all magic started to disintegrate… The downward spiral away from God, religion, an afterlife that permeated my adolescent and early adult years. It was a little death in my heart.
My brother walked into the room after my mom regretfully told me the truth about Santa. She had told me that I had to keep pretending about Santa because my brother was still younger and believed. I didn’t want to ruin it for him too, now did I? She tried to put a positive spin on this “coming of age moment” by telling me that it was now my responsibility to help her keep up the fun for my brother until he was ready to learn the truth.
My brother wondered why I was crying. I suddenly felt very sympathetic towards him–he still believed in the magic that I now knew was not real–and I wished I could be in his place. I put my arms around him, hugged him tight. My mom grimaced, afraid I might let out the secret like those idiot boys down the street had done. But no. I was not about to ruin anyone else’s fun. I hugged my brother right and asked him what he wanted Santa to bring him this year. Even though I think it was early spring at the time, not Christmas time at all. I wanted to believe the words myself. Maybe if I pretended, it could still be real.
I don’t know when my brother learned the truth about Santa. But I kept up the spirit for years until “Santa Claus” stopped appearing in the From spot on the present tags. And when my brother stopped hurrying to bed on Christmas Eve night, I knew he knew. But we never discussed it. I’m pretty sure he probably took it better than I did. I’ve always been the one with the wild imagination, the one who liked to pretend, the one unable to accept reality even in the face of it.
I was reminded of this story a few nights ago when I watched the movie The Polar Express for the first time. In the scene where the little boy finds the bell that falls from Santa’s sleigh, and he hears it ringing as he picks it up, I started crying. I was really surprised by my reaction. I’ve cried in movies before–most recently, during any movie involving the death of a character as my widow senses always tingle with all-too-real memory to augment any fiction–but never before have I cried the kind of tears that pushed themselves from my eyes when I watched that movie.
I felt my heart swell with a sort of melancholic relief because the little boy in the movie finds proof that Santa is real. Because I want to believe that Santa is real. I could feel the words forming in my head even as the boy said them, “I believe! I believe in Santa Claus.” And at the same time, the adult me who knows that Santa isn’t real felt a sort of sympathy with the character, similar to the way I felt when I knew my brother still believed in Santa and I’d been told the truth.
The tears just kept coming. My face was wet and I was embarrassed. I hurriedly tried to wipe them away before Crow could see them, but he caught them anyway. “It’s okay,” he said. But I still felt a little stupid.
It’s a beautiful movie, really. We rewatched it again last night and the same thing happened. I just couldn’t control the tears. Some little girl inside me relates to this movie. She still wants to believe. She wants to completely accept the premise of the movie. She is found in the spirit of those characters.
My eyes remained wet through the remaining scenes of the movie, as these incredibly cute and realistic-looking children emoted about their experiences, said their goodbyes, and returned to normal life after their visit to the North Pole. I felt sorry for the little boy’s parents on Christmas morning because they could not hear the bell and thought it was broken. I knew I was like the parents. But I wanted to be like the little boy and his sister who could hear the bell and knew it was not broken.
In the end, the boy narrates that each of his friends stopped hearing the bell as they grew up… but that he always heard the bell for the rest of his life because of his experience at the North Pole. He never stopped believing. The tears flooded from my eyes again. I couldn’t stop them. I believe! I believe! a little voice in my head kept shouting. A little piece of my heart that was broken suddenly felt fixed. If you believe in anything enough, could it then come true?
Oh, how I wish… Oh, how I hope…