It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m standing in the living room looking at the tree. I’m wearing my new red velvet dress with the lace collar. I love to squint my eyes and make the colored lights get blurry. You can’t see any of the wires anyway, because mom says we have to be meticulous when we put the lights on. I think that means perfect.
Christmas Eve is the best, because that’s when we open the presents. In our house, Santa comes twice, once before dinner to drop off the presents, then again when we are sleeping to fill the stockings.
I am so excited about Santa. Mom just told dad it’s time to go pick up Grandma, who lives two blocks away. My younger sister, Laura, is going with him, but I don’t have to go. I’m so glad, because in the past, I’ve missed seeing Santa when I’ve gone with Dad and Laura to get Grandma.
The heavy door closes with a click, and mom suddenly shouts to my older siblings. “Quick! Let’s get all the presents under the tree!” I watch in confusion as they run upstairs, pull wrapped packages out of my mom’s storage closet, and ferry them downstairs. One by one, they gleefully place the presents under the tree, and run back upstairs to make another trip.
Tears sting my eyes. My mind is racing. Mom sees me standing frozen to the spot and asks what’s wrong. “What about Santa?” I squeak out.
“You’re too old to believe in Santa,” she says dismissively, and goes back to her task. “Pitch in and help. We don’t have much time before dad will be back with Laura and your grandmother. And keep it a secret. Laura still believes.”
I survey the glittering pile of wrapped gifts, but they’ve lost their enchantment.
Well, so did I, until a few seconds ago. I survey the glittering pile of wrapped gifts, but they’ve lost their enchantment. I’m trying to make sense of it all.
There is no Santa? Has it all been a big lie? Or a joke? I feel foolish.
Some kids at school have been teasing me for weeks, saying there’s no Santa, but I defended him. I believed in him. I was so SURE.
I am still trying to recover from this news when the door flies open. Dad is back, and he helps Grandma make her way into the living room.
“What a pretty dress,” she says, and gives me a kiss on the cheek. She smells like powder, and her bracelets make a jangling sound.
Laura runs in and sees the presents. She is disappointed to have missed Santa.
“What happened?” she asks me, crestfallen. “Did you get to sit on his lap?”
I’ve never been a very good liar, and I’m still reeling from my new discovery, fighting back tears. I tell her I didn’t see him. He must have come while I was in the bathroom. She probably thinks I’m sad because I also missed him. She switches gears, moving into excited anticipation at the presents under the tree.
Soon we are called into dinner, and I sit, politely eating my roast beef, while the grownups talk.
I am now living in a world without magic.
Looking back on the story, it is almost impossible to believe I was nearly eleven years old and still believed in Santa Claus. Perhaps it has to do with how sheltered I was as a child in the 1950s, and how fully I believed everything my mother said. I know six-year-olds now that are savvier than I was at eleven, and they shrug off the “no Santa” revelation with minimal impact.
For me, it was a crushing blow. And it ushered in a three-year period of feeling completely lost.
I feel for that sweet girl, her lost innocence, and the callous way her mother brushed her off.
This moment contributed to my passion to find real enchantment and magic in life.
Reflecting on it now, I can’t help but feel this moment contributed to my passion to find real enchantment and magic in life. What may have begun as a wound-driven passion soon became a soul-driven passion for me.
I fell in love with the enchantment of the theater, and the magic of movies. I discovered the magic of storytelling, and visual arts and music. I found enchantment communing with nature, in the mystery of the forest preserve near our home, or sitting around a glowing fire high in an alpine meadow, or the wonder of a million bright stars on a moonless night.
Over the years, I’ve dedicated my life to the discovery of personal magic, which I find in the power of transformation, and our capacity to change physical reality by changing our thoughts, beliefs, choices and actions.
The Santa of my child’s imaginings may not be real, but for me, magic is alive and well.