14 January 2013
The Christmas There Was a Santa
Until that Christmas, six-year-old Caylee and three-year-old Jacob didn’t believe in Santa Claus. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though; they wanted to believe. They wanted to feel the same excitement they saw in other children. They wanted to experience the magic that comes from generations of jolly Christmas lore. But there had always been a Grinch in their midst—a nay-saying Scrooge who emphasized reason and rationality in his children: their father, Lonnie.
Lonnie was a very successful used-car salesman, so he wasn’t hurting for money. Indeed, he was a very generous father who made sure his children had plenty of presents waiting for them every Christmas. However, he refused to entertain with them even the possibility of there being a Santa Claus.
As Christmastime drew nigh, Caylee and Jacob would see other children standing in line at the mall to sit on Santa’s lap. They would peer at the kindly looking old man in the red suit and see the looks of delight on the faces of the children. They wanted to join these children, to see what was so wonderful, but Lonnie would urge them to keep walking.
“You don’t want to sit in that old guy’s lap,” Lonnie would insist, chuckling at himself. “He’s got old man cooties, and he’s carrying flu germs from every single kid who’s sat in his lap today.”
His wife, Gwen, would roll her eyes at this but say nothing. Lonnie meant well, but he had zero concept of imagination. He claimed not to understand the appeal of Santa Claus, and he reasoned that his children would appreciate honesty over illusion.
“I’m their security blanket,” Lonnie would proclaim proudly. “I’m their binky! My kids don’t need fairytales and Easter bunnies to comfort them.”
But in that moment, on that Christmas day, when shiny black boots descended the staircase and little bells on a sack of toys began to jingle, Caylee and Jacob finally knew what magic was.
But there is no Santa Claus, the children thought, trying to fight back their wide-eyed wonder. Daddy said. But that’s him. He’s real.
“Ho-ho-ho!” Santa Claus bellowed, more deeply and more warmly than Caylee and Jacob could have ever imagined. Everything they had heard—every Christmas story they had seen and heard and been forbidden to take to heart—all of it was true. The twinkling blue eyes, the fat belly, the white beard and the red suit, all of which flew directly in the face of what their father had told them. It was no illusion—Santa Claus was real and he was in their living room.
“Ho-ho-ho!” Santa chortled again, setting down his sack with a mighty thud. “Merry Christmas!”
Santa knelt down before the children, who were still standing awestruck by their mother.
“And have you been good this year?” he asked, smiling broadly.
“Y-yes, Mr. Claus,” Caylee stammered, her heart fluttering with joy. Jacob merely nodded, too giddy to form words.
“Then I have presents for you!” Santa declared happily, pulling brightly-wrapped packages from his sack. “Presents for both of you!”
“Santa!” Jacob cried out, gleefully looking up at his mother. “Santa’s here!”
“Yes,” Gwen replied, a strange, sideways smile on her face. She looked quizzically at Santa, raising an eyebrow. “Santa’s here.”
“Santa,” Caylee whispered, and Santa turned to her. Caylee looked into his eyes and saw all the warmth of a crackling fire on a winter night. She saw red cheeks like the blush on Grandma’s fresh summer apples. She saw a smile that radiated goodness and sincerity. She looked at Santa Claus and she saw the Christmas miracle she had been forbidden to believe in for so long.
As Santa handed out presents, ho-ho-hoing as he went, Gwen pulled out her camera and snapped a few pictures of Santa with the kids. She wasn’t sure, but Caylee thought she saw Santa wink at Gwen as he knelt beside the children.
Entranced, amazed and delighted by the feeling of Santa’s gloved hand gently clasped upon her shoulder, Caylee only barely heard Jacob ask the question she, too, had in the back of her mind, the question she wanted to ask but could not bear to voice.
“Where is Daddy?” Jacob asked, for he knew Daddy would be more amazed than anyone to see Santa Claus in their living room—to see him alive and real, bigger and warmer than they had ever imagined.
“He must be outside shoveling the driveway,” Gwen suggested. “I bet Santa will see him on his way out.”
Santa stood up and shook a few more presents from his sack. Jacob eagerly fell upon them as Caylee watched, still awestruck.
“Oh, boy!” Jacob exclaimed. “A fire truck! A crane!”
“Open yours,” Gwen said with a smile, but Caylee merely held hers close to her chest.
“This is the best Christmas ever,” Caylee whispered, a single tear starting to well up.
Santa Claus smiled again, but it was different this time. Was it sadness? Was it pride? Was it cruelty? He reached for his hat and pulled it off, revealing thinning blond hair. He pulled off his thick white eyebrows, revealing darker brows that nearly connected in the middle. Finally, he reached for his beard, and suddenly Caylee and Jacob knew the magic was gone.
The beard came off.
“Merry Christmas, kids!” Lonnie declared, standing proudly before them in his red suit, hands on his hips in a heroic pose. With his lean face and padded belly, he looked ridiculous to the point of perversity.
Caylee and Jacob stood there silently, presents in hand. They didn’t run forward to hug their father. They didn’t scream or cry. They didn’t run to their rooms. They just stood there as Lonnie grinned absurdly, crunching down on a candy cane while Gwen picked up the wrapping paper and bows that were strewn around the room.
“Why did you do that?” Gwen whispered under her breath.
“What do you mean?” Lonnie asked, twirling the candy cane with his fingers.
“You rented the suit. You spent money to make them believe only to bring it all crashing down. Why?”
Lonnie just shrugged.
“Didn’t your parents do the whole Santa thing with you and your brother?” Gwen asked. “Didn’t you tell me that one Christmas, when you were already strapped into the car to go visit your grandparents, your mom ran back into the house for a minute? And what did she go back to do?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, honey,” Lonnie muttered, rolling his eyes.
“She said she had to turn off the stove, but she was really setting out presents so you’d be surprised when you got home. You said that Christmas, you actually believed in Santa. Lonnie . . . I agreed with you when you said we should be honest with our kids, but what was the point of this? It was cruel.”
“Oh, come on,” he chuckled. “It’s Christmas. I was just having fun.”
“So it’s all about you, isn’t it?” Gwen said softly. “That’s all it’s ever been about.”
Nobody talked about Santa after that. From then on, Christmas was a quiet affair. Although family, food and presents remained a staple of the celebration, there was no talk of chimneys or sleigh bells, nor was there any mention of elves or reindeer. But if Caylee and Jacob could not believe in Santa Claus—if their moment of faith had been rewarded with pain instead of pleasure—how could they put any stock in what the holiday was really supposed to be about? Was the baby in the manger just a Cabbage Patch Kid in an apple crate like in the town’s nativity scene? Was God just another story parents told to keep their kids in line? Was heaven no more real than the Bunny Trail? What good was honesty when the man who demanded it went about in disguise to deceive them?
Santa Claus was a lie. Christmas was dead and pointless. Flights of fancy gave way to calculating logic. Magic gave way to hopelessness.
“Merry Christmas, kids,” Lonnie said again, grinning as he chomped down on his candy cane.
This story is property of Chris Roll, 2013. Long story short, if you want to share the story with somebody, go for it, but don't present it as your own or attempt to profit from it, because, frankly, that's not very nice, and I wouldn't do it to you if I were in your position. Otherwise, enjoy!