Edit: The story has been cleaned up a bit. An error in the code ended up erasing a fair sized chunk of the article — one of the most important parts, actually. I’ve added the part back as best I could, so if you read the article and part of it didn’t make any sense, read it again. Sorry about the confusion.
Did you ever believe in Santa Claus? How long?
As a kid, I used to believe in Santa. I don’t mean “believe” as in “I think he’s real”. I mean “believe” as in I’m-ready-to-throw-down-if-you-try-to-imply-otherwise. In fact, at one point I thought that maybe, one day, I could be like Santa. The funny part is that I always seemed to be surrounded by people who didn’t believe in him. Whether I was in Puerto Rico or in Florida, someone was always trying to tell me there was no Santa. Yet, the less they believed in him, and the more they tried to convince me that he didn’t exist, the more ardently I believed.
Perhaps a little background is in order:
Puerto Rico is a land of holidays. Seriously, I think the country has more holidays between November and March than all other North American countries have — combined — all year round. The Christmas season is especially holiday filled, as it seems a new holiday is upon you just about every week. Starting with Thanksgiving, all manner of holidays show up in some form or another until about Easter. Most of these show up between December and January, but they continue in the form of four-day work weeks until sometime in March. In fact, between December and January, most Puerto Ricans have almost a month off from work due to all the holidays,
When I was a kid, my family celebrated Christmas twice: the first time was Navidad (Christmas day), which we celebrated on December 25th. The second time was on January 6th, called Tres Reyes (Three Kings day).
Side Note: This second one is also referred to as “Orthodox Christmas”, since it is when the Eastern Orthodox Christian church celebrates Christmas, and it commemorates the night the three wise men (probably Zoroastrian Magis) visited Jesus.
Lucky for us, we got presents during both times, with the larger share of the presents coming Christmas morning. (This batch was, of course, brought by Santa Claus.) This was in direct contrast to just about everyone else who lived around us, especially my God parents and their family: they received all their gifts on Three Kings day. (The presents for Three Kings were supposedly brought by the Magis themselves, who, as local legend had it, lived in the three stars on Orion’s belt.)
Needless to say, this caused a bit of confusion: why would Santa Claus bring presents to some kids in the neighborhood, but not to others? After all, we were all Catholics, right? We all believed in Jesus. But my mom later explained to me that it was because they celebrated like Puerto Ricans, so they only got presents on the 6th, while we celebrated Christmas like both the Americans and Puerto Ricans, which is why we got presents on both. (For the record, my mother was raised in New York, and my dad in Oklahoma.) This, of course, made perfect sense. Still, it didn’t stop other neighborhood kids from telling me that Santa wasn’t real, while the Three Kings were, despite my pointing out the indisputable fact that his “helpers” (if they weren’t actually him) were always at the mall.
The only person who didn’t disbelieve in him was my friend, Chuky (pronounced CHOO-kee). She believed that he was a nice old man who was always on the lookout for children, despite the fact that her parents. my God parents, didn’t celebrate Christmas on the 25th.
Anyway, despite the non-belief of everyone but my siblings and Chuky, I continued on believing in Santa, even after we moved to Florida. Actually, it was probably because of this non-belief that I believed for so long. I was staunch in my belief. Militarily so.
In 1989, my family — everyone except my dad, at least — moved to the US. I was about 9 1/2 years old at the time, in the fifth grade, and yes, I still believed in Santa Claus. In fact, more than ever, Santa was one of my heroes. After all, how could you not look up to a guy who could circumnavigate the planet and visit billions in a 24 hour period? (By this time I started to catch on to that concept.) Besides, other than my immediate family, he was the only person I “knew” who would come visit after our move to the US. The fact that I never saw him didn’t really bother me, not until I was a bit older.
Here’s something you should know: My younger sister and I loved Christmas. Mind you, we still love Christmas, but when we were kids we loooooooved Christmas. In fact, just about every Christmas either she or I would wake up through the night and, if we didn’t hear anything, we would take a peek to see whether the presents had been placed under the tree yet. If the presents were there, the one who saw them would wake the other one up. If we heard anything, we didn’t dare go: Santa might get mad, or worse, he might get frightened, have a heart attack, and die in our house. He was, after all, a very old man: neither of us could stand the thought of being responsible for killing one of the main symbols of Christmas. Can you imagine how mad everyone else would have been?
At 5am, a time defined by my parents as the earliest possible time for opening presents after that year we woke everyone up at 4am for presents, she and I would wake everyone else in the house up and start the present opening ceremony. This eventually led to our defining our Christmas morning roles: I was (and still am) the waker upper, my job being to make sure everyone got to the living room early. She was (and still fervently is) the organizer, responsible for distributing the gifts under the tree to their rightful owners. (Christmas in the Cartagena household is to this day a very efficient operation.)
But I digress. Back to Santa.
Just as much as we loved Christmas, my sister and I loved Santa. So much so, in fact, that we would, during our first few years here, play a game we called “Santa Claus”. During this game, one of us — usually me, being the more portly of the two — pretended to be Santa. The other would be the kid that would wake up and see Santa dropping off presents. Santa would then laugh mightily and shower the kid with all kinds of presents, which the kid would then pretend to open.
We played this game for hours, almost every night, for weeks before and after Christmas. Sometimes we would even use the left-over wrapping paper and wrap “new” gifts, like her old Barbie dolls, or my Ninja Turtle action figures (because boys don’t play with dolls).
It was during this time that I really started to believe that one day maybe I could really be like Santa Claus. Sure, I would never ride around in a sleigh all over the world, but giving presents to kids always seemed like it would be great fun. (Needless to say I didn’t much care to think about the semantics or economics of the endeavor.) Besides, by this time I had figured out that it was highly unlikely that Santa went into every kid’s house. Instead, he most likely relied on a system much like the Star Trek transporters to transport the presents into people’s houses as he passed over them. Although that was well and fine for him, my dream was still to give the presents to kids face to face, as a Santa (not a Mall Santa, but a real one).
Of course, this dream didn’t exactly go well with the rest of the neighborhood kids, who would tell me over and over again that I was stupid for believing in Santa. By this time, I knew the people in the malls really weren’t him, and thanks to the Simpsons’s first Christmas special, I also knew they probably weren’t really his helpers. Still, I believed.
I remember watching (and sitting) television specials where Air Force pilots would supposedly report an unidentified flying red sleigh flying above US airspace. I also remember hearing the radio report that would come out every Christmas from NORAD, reporting on where Santa’s sleigh was currently over. It was because of those reports that I spent more than one Christmas looking toward the skies, especially toward the moon, to see if I could catch a glimpse of Santa’s silhouette as he crossed our part of the country.
By the 7th grade, just after I turned twelve, I started to have some doubts. It was sad, really, since I still wanted to believe in that jolly, old, red-clad fellow. But by this time other kids were continually making jokes about his “Ho, Ho, Ho” laugh (referring to prostitutes), and I thought it wiser to keep my own beliefs to myself. (Imagine that: they were making sex jokes and I still believed in Santa. Interesting, no?) This was pointed out especially so during a conversation with a girl I then knew (and liked), Nikki. After a comment I made regarding Santa, she looked at me with wide open eyes and incredulously asked, “You don’t still believe in that, do you?!” Of course I didn’t, I told her, and then continued on with a conversation.
This was the first time I had publicly denied Santa, instead of arguing for his existence. Truth be told, I felt pretty guilty about it. Very guilty, in fact.
Thinking about it now, I wonder what kind of innocence it took to defend his existence as long as I did, to believe in him as long as I had in the face of all the opposition. I know that some people think that kind of innocence isnâ€™t good, that kids shouldnâ€™t believe in things like Santa or the Easter bunny, but I wonder, how much better the world would be if we were all just a little more innocent, if we all really did believe in things like Santa as kids? How much better could the world be if we could all really believe in things like this as adults?
Christmas would take place a few weeks later, and that year I decided to find out whether or not Santa was real. I couldn’t exactly come out and ask my parents about it, since revelation of doubt might lead to me getting on to the jolly fat man’s bad side, so instead I decided to stay up and see for myself. Christmas night, I fought the urge to sleep, and instead decided to take intermittent peeks outside my window. I had looked for presents in the house, and having not found any I was sure that my parents either hid the presents in the car, or that Santa was actually real.
It was about midnight when I took a peek out the window. (I had always made it a point to go to sleep early Christmas Eve, so that the morning came faster, and so that I would be fresh and awake.) I had heard a noise and knew that this was it: the time of truth. As I looked out the window, I first looked up, to see if there was anything in the ceiling. That, of course, wouldn’t have made any sense, since we didn’t have a chimney: Santa would have to use either the front or back door, unless he used his transporter. I didn’t see anything, so I, somewhat reluctantly, looked down. That’s when I saw them, my parents…
…going to the car…
…and getting the Christmas presents.
I knew right there and then that it was over: Santa wasn’t real. I went to sleep that night not knowing how to feel. On one hand I was excited because now I knew the truth. On the other, I was saddened that Santa really wasn’t real. I cried a little before I went to sleep that night.
The next morning, my sister woke me up at the customary time, 4:45am, to tell me that the presents were under the tree. Obviously, I couldn’t tell her the truth of what I had seen, so I played along. She went on to wake up everyone and herd all of us downstairs in order to start the gift opening “ceremony.” (We didn’t have much of a system at this time. Our excitement — her excitement, I guess — was enough.) As I opened my presents that morning, I felt a bit sad. These were, after all, bought by my parents, not brought by Santa. They were still nice — especially the radio and television I got that year — but it just wasn’t the same. I also started to feel a bit guilty because I knew that my parents had been doing this, essentially un-thanked, for over 10 years now. (I don’t know when my older sister stopped believing in Santa, so I couldn’t tell you how long they had been at it.) This was a strange morning.
In a previous post, I mentioned that I have a guilty feeling every Christmas morning when I open presents. This feeling has led to the interesting tradition of me opening my gifts then taking them to my room to study them and enjoy them alone. As I write this, I realize I may have just found the reason why I do this.
Still, even after this incident, after discovering that Santa wasn’t real, I felt that one day I wanted to be like that jolly old fat man. I even considered becoming a mall Santa. After all, I already had the fat part down, all I needed was the beard and wrinkles! But I decided to put that dream aside and work on it in the future, when I could be a Santa on my own terms.
As I wrote in the aforementioned post, this year I moved one step closer to that dream of becoming a Santa by adopting a couple of kids for Christmas and buying their presents. (I had wanted to adopt an entire family, but it looks like that will have to wait until I learn to plan better.) Last night, The Wife and I went to a few local stores to get a few of the things these kids wanted and needed. Actually, we got them just about everything they wanted and needed, at least from the information we received. While we didn’t exactly enjoy spending the money — I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed spending money — the feeling I got from knowing what a difference this will make in those kids lives is something I can’t possibly put to words.
For those of you thinking that you’d like to help someone out, but think you can’t, read this passage from Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet and then think about your position:
Then said a rich man, “Speak to us of Giving.”
And he answered:
You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?
And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?
And what is fear of need but need itself? Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, thirst that is unquenchable?
There are those who give little of the much which they have – and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward. And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism. And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space. Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.
It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding; And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving. And is there aught you would withhold?
All you have shall some day be given; Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’.
You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.” The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture. They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish. Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights is worthy of all else from you. And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream. And what desert greater shall there be than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving? And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?
See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving. For in truth it is life that gives unto life – while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.
And you receivers – and you are all receivers – assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives. Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings; For to be overmindful of your debt, is to doubt his generosity who has the free-hearted earth for mother, and God for father.
This post is not intended as a lesson. It is intended to tell a story. It is also intended as a confession, that I still believe in the spirit of Santa, not the materialist, not the substitute for Jesus during Christmas, but the giver who gives for the sake of joy in the heart of the recipient. And I believe that this spirit is within all of us: we just have to learn to nurture it.