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[CRASHING THE GATE]

by Brian Clarey

The year without a Santa Claus

Nobody believes anymore. That’s the way it is in my house, anyway, where all of the children have given up on the miracle of Christmas morning, when the fat man slides impossibly down our chimney, eats couple of cookies and takes a swig of milk before emptying his toy bag underneath the tree. Or, at least, he used to.

They still want the presents — that hasn’t changed. But now that they all know where these gifts come from, something will be missing from our Christmas this year: the magic.

My oldest has been aware for years that his mother and I were the ones responsible for the Christmas bounty, such as it was. I told him myself when it became apparent that no oneelse in his class had bought into the myth of Santa Claus, and though I suspected he knew all along, I could tell he was disappointed. Kids want to believe.

To his credit, he kept his mouth shut for a couple of years, until we deemed it time to let his little brother in on the secret. That one, more prone to dreaming and fancy than the others, was visibly crushed, but he got over it quickly and for the next year or so enjoyed using air quotes whenever he referred to “Santa.”

My little girl never gave us a chance to break the news. We were shopping a couple months ago, something for the kids — shoes, a backpack, something like that. My little girl, all of 7 years old, looked at my wife and just straight-up asked her.

“Is there really a Santa Claus, or is it you and Daddy who get us all those presents?” My wife stopped in her tracks and gaped. She looked to me for our next move.

The Santa Claus myth confounded me from the beginning. I didn’t like being lied to when I was a kid — about anything — and when I became a parent I struggled with the grand deception of Christmas. The Big Lie.

Santa gives presents to all the good little boys and girls, as the story goes. But we all know that’s not the case. The booty under the tree on Christmas morning has more to do with the income and employment status of the parents than any barometer of behavior, which means that every Dec. 25 there is some poor kid somewhere with straight As and a clean room who thinks that the meager offerings under her Christmas tree means she was not a good girl this year, while some rotten kid in a good neighborhood thinks his new iPad is a validation of his infallible awesomeness.

But sometimes, when you’re a parent, theory gives way to practice.

And so we perpetuated the Santa myth, waiting for the kids to fall asleep, pulling loads of gifts from hiding places deep in our closets, under our bed and the trunks of our cars. We’d stay up late, quietly assembling complicated toys and arranging dolls — one year a set of bunk beds kept us working until dawn. Then we’d let the kids rouse us from our bed and watch as they gasped and tore their way through the gifts we had sacrificed and plotted to procure while they gave thanks to the guy with the big, white beard. We didn’t mind. We loved it.

And we thought we might have a couple more years of it. But when my little girl posed her question, I felt it was time to come clean. So we told her the truth. She took it in stride, as she usually does, my sanguine little girl. No tears or shock, just a note of satisfaction at having solved one of the mysteries of her universe.

My wife and I didn’t take it nearly as well. So now here we are, with a houseful of kids who don’t believe in Santa Claus. We still put up the tree and decorated the house, though the excitement and wonder from years past was noticeably absent. We’re still plotting and shopping with the money we’ve scraped together and holed away for the cause, still have a few surprises up our sleeves.

But Santa’s not coming this year, so there won’t be a plate of cookies and milk left by the fireplace and he won’t leave ashy footprints by the hearth for the kids to discover the next morning. We’ll give our gifts in the evening, to accommodate travel and school schedules — definitely more convenient, definitely not as much fun. And we’ll be together, which, really, is what Christmas is all about. At least the kids aren’t asking for cash for Christmas, which I understand is what will happen a few years down the line.

Santa Claus has left the building, and I’ll try not to fell his absence too keenly. I know he’ll be back when I’m a grandpa, which seems like a pretty good deal.

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