‘What’s more fun than believing in Santa? Hanging around with a little kid who believes in Santa’
Can you remember when you believed in Santa? I certainly can. We’d be at my Swedish Gramma Peterson’s on Christmas Eve, and we’d hear stomping around upstairs (‘Santa’s sleigh just landed on the roof!’), then here he’d come, ho-ho-hoing his way down the stairs in all his red-suited glory with a big ole pillowcase of presents slung over his shoulder.
It never occurred to me to ask why he carried a pillowcase, nor did I ask to go see the sleigh up on the roof. I never even wondered why one of my uncles was always missing when Santa was in the room. I guess I just wanted to believe in Santa.
It didn’t hurt that I was the oldest in my family. That meant I had no older sibs to disabuse me of my Santa Belief. I did have older cousins on the Henry Side, but I can’t remember them bursting my Santa Bubble. In fact, the only time I can remember getting in trouble over Santa had nothing to do with telling a kid there wasn’t one. Just the opposite, in fact. This was when a gang of us Henrys called a littler cousin on the phone extension at Jimmy-with-all-the-toys’ house. (‘Jimmy-with-all-the-toys’ was called that to distinguish him from another Henry cousin also named Jimmy. JWATT had so many toys because he was an Only Child. Very exotic, that, in the Fifties. He was also the only person we knew who had more than one phone.)
Anyway. We Bigger Cousins got this poor little kid on the phone and one of us pretended to be Santa. ‘Santa’ said he was sorry to say he’d been watching this kid and that he’d been very very bad and was getting nothing for Christmas. Well, maybe some coal. Now, as a grownup, I still think that’s the meanest thing ever. Maybe it’s a little late to say so, but I’m really sorry, kid.
But back to good Santa memories.
When The Dude and I had The Child, one of the things we enjoyed most was the whole Santa rigamarole. In the very early days, we joined the other Henry Kids with Kids at my Mom and Dad’s house in Southern Illinois. (That’s The Child meeting Uncle Arlyn — er, ‘Santa’ — at her very first Christmas up at the top of this post.) Here’s another shot of the same scene:
We all gathered there for at least one more Christmas before the strains of Holiday Travel took their toll. (Carlyle, Illinois, is not very easy to get to at any time of the year. But at Christmas? With little kids? Thank goodness our parents were understanding souls.)
So, for the next several small-Child Christmases, we carried the Santa torch in the City. The Child discovered that Santa’s headquarters was at Macy’s. (For a hilarious take on Macy’s and what it’s like to ‘be’ one of Santa’s Elves, listen to David Sedaris read from his ‘Santaland Diaries’) To reinforce this Santa-at-Macy’s notion, we’d watch ‘Miracle on 34th Street’, a somewhat-saccharine-though-beloved Christmas film featuring a jaded Maureen O’Hara and a young Natalie Wood with a furrowed brow.
We’d explain that Santa would leave Macy’s on Christmas Eve to come down the chimney at our house, where we’d leave him milk and cookies. (In a bid for authenticity, The Dude would take a bite of the cookie and drink the milk before he went to bed.) We also fielded questions like ‘If Santa brought those presents, why are they wrapped in our wrapping paper?’ Answer: ‘Do you think Santa wastes his money on wrapping paper? He brings the toys in his sleigh and then wraps them in whatever paper the families have on hand. Clever Santa!’
If she saw ‘extra Santas’, like on street corners ringing bells, we’d explain that they were Santa’s helpers. Of course this was well before Santadom was ambushed by hipsters and suburbanites in red and white hats bar-crawling their way through SantaCon. (That ‘Con’ must stand for ‘Confusion’ for current parents of Santa-believing Children.)
In later years The Child confessed that she actually stopped believing in Santa at a very young age. She played along because she didn’t want to ruin our believing-in-The-Child-believing-in-Santa belief.
Bless your little heart, Child. In your honor, I’m going to (gulp) go out right now and buy a (probably very small, but still) Christmas Tree. I might even decorate it.
See you — oh, and you too, Santa, providing they let you read blogs on your break at Macy’s and you see this — on Christmas Eve.
Amagansett, New York. December 2015