|The stockings at our house, Christmas 2014. Photo by J. Berta|
Back in high school, I did a fair amount of drama. My favorite role was Candy in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. We performed this show in the round, so the audience was sitting up close and personal. My friend Reid saw me before the play in costume. I recall that there was something amiss with my costume and he kindly took a moment to fix it for me. As he was doing so, he gave me some great advice for an actor: "Keep the illusion alive."
Fast-forward three decades and I found myself engaged in another form of acting on Christmas morning, that of the fictional arrival of Santa Claus.
Carly, my youngest daughter, is eight. She still believes in Santa Claus, so that means every Christmas Eve we begin the staging for the most important illusion of the year. This is no easy feat as our daughter is not one to go to sleep easily. She even had her flashlight, ready to stalk down the stairs to spy on Santa.
This caused a delay in the stuffing of the stockings. I was mildly proud of myself that I remembered to write the thank you note from Santa. All seemed well, the illusion was in place.
The next morning I woke up before everyone as I had church with my Dad so we had a short window to do the presents, and, of course, see what Santa brought us.
Carly came down stairs and went straight to the stockings. All started off well. Then the plans started to unravel. As she opened her stocking, she found a box of tea packets. That was meant for her older sister.
Drat, strike one.
Dawn covered that one well, saying Santa must have gotten the stockings wrong. Something about him, "...getting into the egg nog."
In our defense, both Carly and her sister's stockings were almost identical. Of course, if you're an 8-year-old, you know you're stocking the way a micro-biologist knows all their slides.
Then there was the smatter of forgetting to dispose of the evidence of the cookies we left out for Santa. Drat. I should have done a better job of sweeping the area for incriminating evidence. After all, I've been a lawyer for two decades... (That's a joke.) Carly picked up on that too.
I was thinking we'd get out of this, be able to open presents and I would get to my twice-yearly attendance at Our Lady of Victory church with my Dad unscathed. Then we got to my stocking.
In it, aside from some moleskin notebooks from Target I bought myself a few weeks' back, were some socks that Dawn had gotten me. She even wrapped them for me, complete with the "To Jeno From Santa" tag. Nice touch.
Yet there was only one tiny little problem. Carly pointed this out when she said: "Hey Dad, you're present from Santa is wrapped in the same paper as those presents under the tree."
Shit. Strike three.
Carly might have just discovered a brutal truth. Santa is not real. I base this on her following comment: "I still believe Santa is real."
It was obviously not what she said, but her tone, it was soft. It was as if her heart and her mind were locked in a struggle. Dawn and I both heartily concurred with her statement. We then proceeded to unwrap other presents and I slugged down another cup of coffee before heading to church.
On the way there, Carly's words echoed in my head: "I still believe Santa is real."
This raises an interesting question: Just what makes something "real?" Is it a medically obese man who magically enters millions of homes one night a year? Is it a spirit of giving? Is is an illusion that parents do their best to hold onto until like all good tricks, its secret is learned?
Or is it something more? Does the illusion of Santa Claus give way to the reality of a season of joy, of sharing, of love? I believe it does.
If so, then this most important of all illusions is alive and well.
I hope you do for the rest of your days.
Be well my friends,