Inside our home, the Christmas lights twinkled; the tinsel glistened; the ornaments sparkled; and the Christmas tree silently awaited Santa’s arrival. I peered out our living room window and noticed that newly fallen snow had blanketed the neighborhood streets; the barren, frost-covered trees shivered like frail skeletons trembling in the blustery winds; and silent icicles hung from the shimmering housetop roofs.
The mercury had dipped well below freezing, so mother wrapped me in my heaviest coat; forced my hands into last year’s mittens; and covered my ears with my father’s furry ear muffs. When I stepped outside, I watched my warm breath mingle with the crisp, cold air as it stung my cheeks. The gentle snow crunched under my boots as we began the one-mile trek from our house to the downtown plaza where Santa was scheduled to arrive.
As I stood in the plaza with the other children, Christmas waved its magic wand over me. So when I looked up in the sky, I was certain that off in the distance I saw Rudolph, heard Santa’s sleigh bells jingling, and believed that Santa would arrive shortly. I glanced above me and discovered that I wasn’t hearing sleigh bells at all. Rather, I was hearing the pole-mounted Christmas bells swaying in the wind. I continued to wait, though, in the bone-crunching cold—the kind of cold that wrenches a child’s spirit—until I heard an unfamiliar sound approach the crowd of children.
It was a rhythmic wop-wop, wop-wop sound; then out of nowhere, a red helicopter emerged from the wintry sky and slowly descended toward us. The rotors beat the cold air into submission until it gently landed a few feet from me. In disbelief, I watched as Santa turned off the engine, grabbed his bag of toys, disembarked, and headed straight toward me and the other children shouting, “Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas boys and girls! Hope you’ve been good this year.”
For some reason, Santa’s unconventional arrival both shocked and disturbed me and ignited some fiery questions in my mind. So later when I approached Santa, my burning curiosity took on a life of its own as I blurted out, “Where’s your sleigh, Santa? Why didn’t you ride it into town?”
“Well, little lady…it’s at the North Pole being repaired.”
“What’s wrong with your sleigh?”
“Just some minor repairs…nothing for a little girl to worry about.”
“Who’s fixing it?”
“Well, the magical elves are, of course,” he curtly replied.
Then logic diluted my childhood naivety, and I quickly formulated some more serious questions: “But I thought elves made toys! Will they really be able to fix your sleigh in time? How will you deliver presents all over the world without it….and…and,” I stammered, “What about Rudolph and all the other reindeer?”
My innocent persistence rendered Santa speechless; he nervously cleared his throat and disapprovingly raised his right eyebrow—which was brown rather than white like his beard. In that instant, the Santa Claus illusion was gone forever.
I cried as I climbed off Santa’s lap, and my mother lovingly wrapped me in her arms; wiped away my tears; and said, “You’re gonna be okay, sweetie. You’re so smart, and I’m proud of you for discovering the truth.”
Then, mother got down on her knees, looked me straight in the eyes, and explained, “Santa Claus is a wonderful made up story like the storybooks you read in school. Even though the stories aren’t true, you like them any way, right?”
“Yes.” I sniffled back my tears.
“Well,” she continued, “Sometimes storybook writers make up stories to tell lessons or share something important. The story of Santa Claus is like that; it’s made up to tell children about the spirit of kindness and giving—that’s what’s important. Do you understand, sweetie?”
Her honesty comforted me as I began to acknowledge the nonexistence of Santa Claus. Her forthrightness allowed me to reconstruct a more mature reality in light of the new evidence I’d witnessed that day. In the end, the day’s events actually prepared me for adulthood, for my mother wisely taught me how to maintain a grip on reality independent of the stories I’d eventually hear and the disillusionments I’d experience as an adult.