I remember vividly the first time I defended my belief in Santa Claus. I was seven years old and walking with my friend Therese down Narbonne Boulevard to pick up a few groceries for my mom, something that would never happen today. But during the sixties it was pretty common for small children to be sent to the store with a shopping list and the proper amount of cash to buy the items. Mom and pop shops lined the streets a long the way, a small thrift shop, a feed store that displayed yellow chicks in its storefront window in spring time, and a dime store full of random trinkets and toys.
It was Christmas time. On that beautiful sunny southern California day, there is no sign of winter, other than two little girls sharing their Christmas wishes. I don’t recall every word of our conversation, but I do remember Therese telling me, rather bluntly, that there was no Santa Claus. It was our parents who placed our presents under the tree and made our Christmases merry and bright. I wasn’t upset or worried by her words, she was simply misinformed, clearly some one had brainwashed her. I told her she was wrong and that Santa Claus was real. Our discussion went from lighthearted banter to heated debate with voices raised. A full-blown argument ensued. After several rounds of nuh-uh and uh-huh, it was clear that we were not going to agree. There was only one thing to do . . . ask a grown-up.
I dragged Therese into the first store I saw, a jewelry store that I had never entered until that moment. There were two saleswomen chatting as they leaned against the jewelry cases. Wearing pumps, pencil skirts and crisply pressed blouses, they looked quite fancy to me. I was intimidated for a quick second, but my question was too important to let a little shyness get in the way of my quest for the truth. I blurted out, “My friend says there is no Santa Claus, but I told her that there is. There is right? I’m right. Right?” For as long as I live I will never forget the look on their faces. They paused for a split second, looked at one another and said almost in unison, ” Yes, yes of course there is a Santa Claus.” The feeling of vindication was overwhelming. I don’t believe I’ve every felt better about being so right, definitely more proud than smug. I stood up straight, looked at Therese, and stated, “See. I told you.”
Therese happily accepted this news. It did seem a little too easy to win the argument. My guess is that she was happy to have Santa back in her life. When I returned home with the groceries, I recounted the story to my mom, so patient as she listened to every detail. I can still see and feel her knowing smile.
The following Christmas, as I opened my presents, I recognized my mom’s handwriting on the gift tags signed Santa. She had this crazy scribble, and while she tried to tone it down, it was hard to miss. I wondered why I had never noticed it before. I guess I was too busy tearing open packages. In that same moment, I realized my mom’s late night sewing of strangely miniature items were clothes for the Barbie dolls that belonged to me and my sisters. The Santa’s story was coming together and unraveling all at the same time. I felt a little disappointed, but not sad. I was not ready to give up on the whole Santa thing. I’m sure at some point, I blabbed to everyone that Santa was a fake. But for now, I kept it to myself, and decided to believe for just awhile longer.
As my own children grew up, I remember them asking me if Santa was real. Their question always conjured up my childhood memory and my same response, “If you believe in him then he is real.” That was always followed by, “Do you believe in him mom?” And I would say without fail, “I absolutely do.” I loved to see the relief on their little faces.
I still believe . . .