I remember exactly when my dad told me that there was no such thing as Santa Claus.
Ironically (or maybe a good idea on his part), we were on our way to Santaland in Macy’s Herald Square, headed up one of those rickety old wooden escalators that only exist in the upper floors of the store.
Logistically, I knew better. After all, I was the kid who left a letter once asking why Santa and the Easter Bunny had the same handwriting. I once called my parents out for “being cheap” – after all, all of my relatives gave me presents. Santa brought me presents. But not them, no. They must just be cheap.
While all the signs pointed to his nonexistence, I believed simply because I wanted to. The fairytale of the Christmas season began when McDonald’s started playing its commercials and the Sears toy catalog arrived in the mail. I remember painstakingly making lists for toys that Dad would have to assemble at midnight with Japanese instructions. I remember my aunt trying to explain that she didn’t buy me a Pogo Ball because they weren’t safe and it was for my own good. I remember when my parents would let me open one present on Christmas Eve to keep me from waking them up at some ungodly hour the next morning and when we eventually switched over to celebrating on Christmas Eve.
Being in New York City everyday tends to make the holiday season feel commercialized and “unspecial.” You get caught walking behind ten times as many clueless tourists and shopping in the stores is an unthinkable option. Hearing that Mariah Carey Christmas song hundreds of times makes me want to go deaf. And there is a part of me that gets caught up in the fact that the holidays can make you feel lonely; they can make you miss people who are no longer with you.
But then there is the part that makes you remember what makes it special.
I love Christmas lights. For some unknown reason, I love garish lighting displays and enormous lit trees.
I love decorating the tree at my parents’ house and reminiscing over the 30 plus years of ornaments, including ones they made together before my brother and I were even born. I adore my parents’ nativity set (which I believe belonged to my grandma) that, for some reason, has two Jesuses and about seven wise men. Perhaps there was a fire sale that year.
I love my parents’ stories of how I was once punished on Christmas morning for drawing a marker moustache on a baby doll I had just been given, and the time they thought it would be funny to give me and my brother coal. Or, when my brother and I took Jesus from the nativity set and rode him on the fire truck we had gotten.
I cherish old family traditions. I remember when my nanny was alive and we celebrated Christmas Eve in a big way. Christmas Eve dinner, eaten after Mass, was an amalgamation of all of our favorite foods – namely: lobster tails, twice baked potatoes, string beans and Carvel ice cream cake.
I look forward to new traditions. This is the second year of celebrating Christmas Eve with my sister-in-law’s family – who nobody can rival for a good time. It is a night filled with food, drinks, Secret Santa gift exchanges and a “12 Days of Christmas” singing/acting competition (you have to be there to get this one …)
I get it, why people get caught up in the commercialization of the holiday, and can’t see what there is to love about it. It all just comes down to stepping back and remembering a time when things were simpler and everything seemed like magic. Being grateful for family and friends and all the good things that we truly have. Thinking about someone who makes you smile.
And maybe again, it’s time to believe in Santa Claus, instead of adding up all the reasons that you shouldn’t.
“It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won’t see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you”
– “Fairytale of New York”