Warning: this post contains spoilers about Santa Claus and/or his identity. Proceed at your own risk.
Everybody remembers who told them there wasn't a Santa Claus. Seriously: those kids who ruined Santa Claus for us were both total assholes and angels of mercy. Finally, we could join the grown-up ranks and go along with pretending for younger relatives. But also, F them: some of us really liked the idea of there being a jolly guy in a red coat who delivered presents as his only means of income. Santa Claus ruled.
My Uncle used to dress up for Santa at parties, so when I was four, he showed up at our house on Christmas Eve — in full Santa Claus garb — and I was THRILLED. The thing is, he'd forgotten to change his boots, and I noticed his running shoes, so when I was sitting on his lap, I promptly announced, "You're not Santa, you're Uncle Dan!" But I still believed. I mean, the real Santa wouldn't forget to take off his shoes — my Uncle just loved me (direct quote), so when he dressed up the next year — boots in tow — and ran out the sliding door when I found him putting presents under the tree, I lost my shit.
"SANTA!!!!" I screamed, rivalling the spirit of Buddy the Elf. I knew it. The man was REAL. Santa came to my house because I believed.
I think I believed a little too hard because I carried this with me until I was nine. I mean, I wasn't a lost cause: I knew mall Santas and Christmas party Santas were just dudes getting paid. (Even though I was very, very polite when I met them because you can't really know for sure.) I was also only fooled and taken by surprise one other time, the same year: during a school assembly in kindergarten, Santa made an appearance in the gym, and, when we went back to our classroom, someone had left candy canes in our shoes. Red alert, this shit was real: he'd shown up in the FUCKING DAY. Santa was everywhere. I immediately went home and went through all the shoes, as my Mom watched over me, likely very concerned.
"HE CAME TODAY," I tried explaining, aware that my Mom was clearly misinformed and not as smart as I was. "And he leaves candy canes in shoes now."
Candy canes, at-home appearances, and the time my Dad told me he heard hooves on the roof kept me going for years. Then, one day right before Christmas break in grade four, a girl named Julia casually dropped the bomb: Santa was our parents and everybody knew.
"No!" I protested, readying my facts. "I saw him at my house. And my Dad heard HOOVES."
"Your dad was just saying that," she shot back calmly.
I was Marge Simpson in that episode when the girl on the bus tells her that Michael Nesbit's hat wasn't even his own.
Internalizing my fear, I remained calm. CLEARLY, Julia was a moron that Santa didn't visit because of said idiocy. That's why her parents and Santa used the same wrapping paper: because they were also idiots. And Santa, as we all know, probably didn't visit idiots.
But I still felt off.
Because timing is everything, I didn't say anything until Christmas Eve when my Mom, Dad, and I went to the mall to pick out a suit for my Dad to wear to church and dinner. I saw the mall Santa and felt uneasy: if this guy had a lot of work to do tonight, why the shit was he at the Cambridge mall?
My Mom and I stood in line at the drug store while my Dad tried on jackets across the hall. The timing couldn't have been better.
"Mom," I started. "Is the mall Santa real?"
The cashier ringing us through looked like she'd rather combust than be a part of this conversation. She started scanning items in faster.
"Well . . ." my Mom answered, slowly. "Why do you ask?"
"Because he should be loading up his sleigh."
"Well . . ." more hestitation. "The Santa at the mall is actually just Santa's helper."
Silence. No. That still felt wrong. Julia was right. I knew Julia was right, and now I hated her because my Christmas Eve was about to see me ask the biggest question you could possibly ask, and I could feel the tears coming and now I was about to start crying in the shittiest mall ever on the night I was expecting a Santa-Man to drop gifts at my house.
"Is Santa real?" I did it. I asked. The cashier's eyes widened as she scanned faster than any human ever has.
"Annie, Mom and Dad love you very much . . ."
I knew it. I fucking knew it! JULIA, WHY. I started to cry. "Is the Easter Bunny real? The Tooth Fairy?" The cashier handed my Mom the bag and then likely got down on her knees and thanked whatever entity she believed in that she didn't have to hear the rest of the conversation.
"I know!" I declared, through audible sobs, en route to Tip Top Tailors. "I'm going to ONLY TELL Santa at the mall what I want for Christmas next year, and not tell you guys, and then I'll know FOR SURE."
By now we were walking into the suit store and my Dad and the guy measuring him looked up in horror.
"Anne . . . knows."
My Dad and I have the exact same tolerance for people who don't say things directly. My mom mouthed: "Santa."
"Oh," said my Dad, turning to face the mirror. (The man didn't want to make a scene.)
The afternoon was a long one. I cried in the suit store, I cried being led through the mall, I cried looking at the man who was dressed up as Santa, wondering if he knew he was living a lie, and I cried in the car. I did not cry when my Uncle came over and told me I was a grown up now, and I did feel a sense of superiority when I had to pretend for my little cousin the next day that Santa was a real, living person and not a fictional man. But I still hated Julia. Because fuck her, that's why.
So maybe I took it a little too hard. And maybe I believed in Santa a little too much, because 99% of every other person I've talked to told me they were pretty indifferent when their parents made the big revelation. Some even pretended to keep believing for years so they'd get more presents. I wish I'd done that. Instead, I'd just give knowing nods to my aunts and uncles when their kids opened presents from "Santa Claus," as if to say, "Hey — I get it. We're all adults here."
The only problem was they had absolutely no idea why I was doing that, and it's taken years to prove to them that I'm not some terrifying weirdo, even now. I also blame the year's choice of mushroom cut. Almost as much as I blame Julia.
Merry Christmas, everybody. Please check your shoes for candy canes.