I am sure it is no surprise to anyone that I believed in Santa Claus until I was 12 years old. Yes, 12 is relatively still pretty young in relation to other age groups, still a child, but a bit too old to believe in a fictional man who watches you 24/7 and comes into your home to bring you gifts on Christmas Eve.
All of my friends had stopped believing in Santa Claus years earlier. I can remember sitting next to a classmate on the school bus when she told me "You know, Santa isn't real. My mom told me that adults make it up." A jolt of fear tore across my belly - because why would a grown-up lie? This was the first I had heard of Santa maybe not being a for-sure-thing, and I was suddenly panicked. But after the initial few seconds of shock, I saw it as a test of faith. There had been numerous movies where people had lost their "Christmas spirit", resulting in Santa losing sleigh power or becoming ill. I figured that they were simply non-believers. And I knew the truth. I alone could keep Santa going in his time of need.
Because much like everything else in my life, I over-analyzed the existence of Santa Claus. If Santa Claus was magical, and celebrated Christmas - a holiday dedicated to the birth of Jesus, then God must be real. Especially since Santa Claus originated from St. Nicholas, another religious figure. Santa was absolute proof to me that God existed, and his ability to live for so long without dying was some indicator that there was an afterlife, or at least a way to avert death. Santa Claus made me believe that mortality was merely an option. If I could somehow get in good with Santa Claus, or tap into the magic he used, maybe I could be upgraded to elf status and I wouldn't have to die either. Santa Claus was the key to everything.
All of this came crashing down after Thanksgiving 2004, when I was helping my mother sort through holiday decorations. We found an old collection of Santa letters he had left in response to the cookies and milk I diligently set out each year, and we opened them to reminisce together. I went back to the oldest letter I can find, and felt like someone stabbed me in the chest as I scanned the first line. It was my mother's handwriting.
In recent years, she had craftily created a Santa handwriting to keep the ruse going, but when I was younger, she didn't bother disguising her letters since I couldn't read anyway. Santa even had a special wrapping paper so I could always tell which gifts were "Santa gifts" under the tree (this is a wrapping paper that we still use, by the way. I am 25 and I still get "Santa gifts". Does this further explain why I am the way that I am?)
I looked at her, tears streaming down my face. "It's your handwriting!" I yelled. "How could you? How could you lie to me? You know how embarrassed and stupid I feel?"
My mom looked hurt, and concerned, not realizing that she had inadvertently caused a religious and existential crisis in her 6th grader. She apologized, and said she didn't mean for me to find out - meaning that my mom probably intended on me believing in Santa Claus until I was like, 20 years old. "You have to keep it a secret for your sister. You can't take away the magic of Christmas from her," she comforted me. My sister was seven at the time, and also an avid believer - but lying to her made me feel sick. I also wanted to spare her the pain of discovering that everything we knew about Christmas was a lie, so I agreed to help my mom carry out Santa activities to keep the dark secret from her.
However traumatic it may have been to find out that Santa didn't exist, I don't regret all of the years I spent believing in him. My parents did teach me the importance of creating magic and allowing yourself to believe in the impossible - even if they should have broken the news to me a little earlier.
And I can't say that I don't spend some Christmas Eves staring up at the starry sky, breathing in the cold air, and wondering if maybe I'll see a sleigh pass by overhead. Because if we can't hold onto dreams and stories, what else do we really have?