2007 Anne Horton Writing Award
"The Existence of Santa Claus"
Surprisingly, finding out at the age of 5 that there is no such thing as Santa, was not nearly as shocking or life changing as discovering, in later years, that Santa does indeed exist. I remember the day I found out there was no Santa as only one small point in time. I cannot say how my morning started or how the day progressed. Neither do I have any idea where my mother, (a farm wife/homemaker who was always around) might have been at the time. I do not remember what brought me to that point in the first place. What I do remember very clearly is standing in my parents’ closet with my sister Joanne, looking up on a top shelf as she proudly pointed out a set of training wheels. These training wheels, I am told, were for me from “Santa.” That was Joanne’s proof that Santa did not exist and in fact; our parents pretended to be Santa. I was not shocked, upset or traumatized by this information, which is what I am sure my sister was hoping to accomplish as most older sisters who think they are bigger and wiser are inclined to do. I was calm, I was accepting.
Armed with this new knowledge, I did not go running to my mom and dad seeking confirmation. I did not ask my other brothers and sisters or my friends. This information became a secret that, without thought, I kept to myself. Perhaps I was scared that if I let it be known that I knew the truth, the gifts would stop. Or maybe young though I was, deep down I was afraid. Afraid that if I admitted to the truth, my life would change in a way that I could never get back again.
But my life did change. That first Christmas, sure enough, there were my training wheels on my new bike from Santa. My eyes had been opened. I knew a secret but I had no idea as to who or how many others might know. That year and the following few, I paid more attention during Christmas. I silently watched and listened. I noticed things I had not noticed before. There were many clues, once I knew to be wary and watch for them. The rolls of wrapping paper leaning against the wall in the corner one Christmas morning that matched the paper our gifts from Santa were wrapped in. When asked why they were there, my mother replied, “Santa must have forgotten them.” I also noticed that the handwriting on the gift tags reading To: Bonny, From: Santa, looked suspiciously like my mother’s handwriting.
Although some things did change, some stayed the same. Without knowing how or why, Christmas was just as exciting and thrilling as it had always been. I still thought of Santa, anticipated his coming in the night to leave gifts. I knew I had to be a good girl or he wouldn’t bring me anything. I fell for, and was threatened by the line “Santa is watching!” I didn’t think to question myself or my feelings. Christmas Eve was the same, a night to struggle through. My brothers and sisters and I went to bed excited and happy. Even with many warnings from my parents to be quiet and get to sleep, it seemed impossible. Laying in bed for what seemed like hours, trying to sleep but yet wanting to stay awake to hear the sounds of sleigh bells or reindeer on the roof signaling Santa’s arrival. There were times when I was sure that I had heard them. And then all of a sudden waking and realizing that it was morning and I had fallen asleep. First thing on my mind was “Did Santa come?” The fun of all of us racing down the stairs to be the first to see. The feeling of awe and wonderment that came over me as I saw for the first time all the packages around the tree, that feeling was the same.
When I was nine tragedy struck and my father died. We were a farm family and without our father to farm the land, my mother was forced to sell the farm machinery and we moved to town. I spent a few years missing my father, adjusting to town life, growing up and being the normal rebellious teen. At this time in my life I felt older and harder and was not quite as receptive to the Holiday traditions. We still went through the motions, but the excitement was dulled and thoughts of Santa were far from my mind. This faze of my life became my “snoop years.” One night before Christmas, I remember my older brother Jerry whispering for me to be quiet and follow him. My mother was asleep upstairs and he had snuck her car keys out of her purse. We tip-toed into the garage and he opened the trunk for me to see it stuffed full of packages. We sorted and snooped and hashed over each item, deciding who it had to be for. This was great fun but it also ruined the surprise on Christmas morning.
My mother remarried and by then I had two little step sisters who were growing up and becoming more aware of the Holidays and the whole Santa thing. I adored my little sisters and with my mother and step father being older and not much into the late night sneaking around scene, I gladly took over the role of Santa in our house.
At this point in my life, I became aware of the fact that I had been transformed from believing in Santa and anticipating his arrival, to being Santa and anticipating being the one who bore the gifts. To me it was a privilege and a thrill to sneak around in the night and leave the gifts, fill the stockings and not get caught. But the best fun of all was waiting in the morning for the first stirrings of my sisters and watching them as they ran down the stairs to the tree and to see the look of awe and wonderment on their faces as they spotted all the packages around the tree for the first time.
It was during one of these Christmas mornings, in my late teens, as I watched the faces of my little sisters, when it dawned on me: Santa does exist. I was witnessing Santa Claus in the truest sense. Not in the physical sense of a bearded man in a red suit who comes down the chimney, but in spirit, as in the Spirit of Christmas. The empty tree before bed, the sleepless nights, waking early and rushing downstairs and turning that corner and see, in that split second, for the first time, all the gifts. The feeling of wonderment and awe; that feeling is Santa, the Spirit of Christmas.