Spoiler warning: An adult retrospective on Santa.
If you ignored that warning: Santa is real. If you are satisfied with that statement, the rest of this note is immaterial to you. Go onto the next Santa thing in your google or bing search.
Now that we have dispensed with true believers, let me get to my Christmas story.
On a typical non-Christmas night at when I was about 4 years old, my sisters and I were sent to bed at 7:30. My mother would say, “Okay time for bed. Hep two tree.” We’d go half way up the stairs, look over the rail and we’d say in Armenian, “Keesher Paree” and my mother would respond, “Looys Paree” and we stumble upstairs and go to bed. On Christmas Eve the 7:30 ritual would occur, and then sometime in the evening we’d hear the doorbell ring and then someone say, “Ho, Ho, Ho”. My sisters would say, “Hey Armen, I heard Santa.” So we’d run down the stairs and see that all the gifts were suddenly under the tree. My sisters being suspicious would say, “Santa sounds like Baba” I’d be sitting there going “Yeah, that’s strange.” My mother would then yell “You can open them in the morning, Hep Two Tree”
Well, yes, I knew it was my father, but I was sworn not to let my other sisters in on it. This fact, having to keep a secret, rather than the lack of a fantasy was probably had more of an effect in my life than not believing in Santa.
You are probably wondering how I knew. When I was 4 years old, an adult family member mentioned to me around Christmas time “you don’t believe dis Santa ting, right? It’s not real, you knoh” (this must be done with the appropriate accent). I was standing on the base of a staircase, inside a family friend’s home up the street, where we had been invited for a meal. My recollection is not clear on why this concept needed to be discussed at that moment, but when my mother found out she was furious at this person. The piece of information given to me that day event confirmed all my suspicions. I had no reason not to believe the adult statement, especially seeing my mother’s reaction. She didn’t try to convince me that Santa was real, she was more intent on proving that the other adult shouldn’t have said anything. Plus she told me not to repeat it to my sisters. HMMMM….
In truth, being a meta-cognitively acute child, not real smart per-se, but innately suspicious, this information made utter sense to me. The fact that Santa seemed to appear everywhere and look slightly different every time I saw him was evidence that I had been pondering anyway. I just hadn’t come up with a good explanation. I knew some of the Santas weren’t real, but I wasn’t sure that all of them were or weren’t.
Plus there was this other problem. The pragmatic physics of the situation just didn’t make sense, even to a 4 year old. While we had a chimney, we didn’t have a fireplace. There was this little metal door on the chimney in the basement, and there was no way Santa and all those gifts came down the chimney and came out the little door in my father’s shop, and then came up the basement stairs and into the living room. We always locked the cellar door. I once asked my parents how he came in and out of the house, and I was told that they let him in the front door. Not a satisfying response to me, since it was inconsistent with his m.o. “So you’ve seen him?” “Well, Yes” …HMMMM…
This new knowledge immediately debunked of all transactional figures that mysteriously appeared at night and left things for me. Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy…all of them fit the pattern I had begun to notice of adults playing games with children’s imagination. I still put my loose teeth under my pillow, but I kept trying to stay awake to find out when my parents would leave the change. Never caught them.
Now some of you are probably saying something like, “Oh that’s terrible!” Actually in the long run it made the whole game quite more fun. That I knew that most adults were preying on children’s willing suspension of disbelief actually had some interesting side effects. I rather enjoyed trying to figure out who the guy in the Santa costume was. I’d look for the beard line and whether they were wearing makeup or something. Was that really his belly?
The other side effect of knowing that Santa was not real was enjoying the fact that I was now in on the secret…I felt pretty empowered in that I now had to keep up the fantasy for my sisters and friends. I was like an adult. And they did cool stuff like drive cars and make things, and teach other people things.
I will also state that I am and always have been very religious. Simultaneous with this revelation I was thrust into Sunday School for a year or so in the local Armenian Church, and also started going to Catechism not long after on Tuesday afternoons in the Catholic Church. My father was Armenian Catholic and my mother is Armenian Apostolic, and from what a 5 year old could tell, having all these people go to places where they seemed to try talking, signing and singing to a being who was NOT visible, who lived a long time ago or lives forever as it were, seemed much more cognitively satisfying at the time. The only thing I didn’t get was why they needed all the bells and smelly smoke.
Philosophically, I was probably violating some rule of proof and evidentiary conclusiveness (hey I was 4), but the behavior of adults around this mysteriously invisible being was quite different from dealing with Santa. Plus this Jesus guy in the movies, who started as a baby, seemed to come to a bad end, and we were praying or him to come back someday, but maybe he’d talk to us once in a while. This story seemed a much more believable construct to me because since I was sharing something that adults believed and not something that just seemed contrived for children. This was reinforced by the fact that the songs about the baby being born were all sung differently in tone and reverence than the songs about Santa. Santa songs were all about this guy who I just saw at the mall who didn’t seem to know me in person (he had to ask me my name), but he knows everything about me when only I can’t see him on one evening. HMMMM…
The game I played with my kids when I was in the same position was somewhat socratic. They’d ask me if Santa was real, and I’d say, “That’s an interesting question, what do you think?” They’d start listing out the evidence for and against. I’d say something like, “Honestly, I’ve seen the guys in the store and I know that’s not him, but I’ve never seen him for real, but a lot of people seem to think he is real. I’m not sure. Do you think that’s how presents got here?” Then, not satisfied with my non-answer they’d go discuss the evidence further.
I hope that with all the troubles and tribulations that are confronting humanity that each of you can spend this holiday with your loved ones in good health, happiness, and a enjoy little willing suspension of Santa disbelief.