Arts & Culture

Fooled by Santa

People laugh when I tell them how old I was when I found out the truth about Santa. But in our family, Santa didn’t just sneak in during the middle of the night, eat some cookies and split. In our family, not only did we get to see Santa on Christmas Eve, we could ask him whatever questions we wanted.

The children in our family divided into two groups: the believers and the non-believers. I was a believer. I had proof because an elf spying on us to see if we were being good children had been careless in covering his footsteps when he escaped from my bedroom window one time. The muddy footprints were so tiny, so authentic — where would my parents have gotten shoes that small? And why would they smear mud all over the window and the table? It wasn’t like Mom. Thinking back, it was precisely like Dad, but no one ever got his jokes anyway.

And yet, I was objective and scientific in my investigation. I certainly knew there were frauds out there; we always had our friends’ dads to look out for. The Macy’s Santa? No way, are you kidding? We all knew he was a big fat fictional scam. But the older kids all remembered that year long ago, the year they met the real Santa. And this year, we were all on a mission for the truth. This year, we were going to get to the bottom of it.

It was one of the few nights in the year that we were allowed to stay up past midnight, and we knew he could come at any moment. The surveillance was highly organized. My cousins were on the lookout for any suspicious signs outside, while my brother guarded the front door and I kept an eye on the adults to make sure that none of them climbed out of a window. In the past, Santa’s arrival always strangely coincided with the mysterious disappearance of one of the grown-ups. But when we heard the loud knock, everyone was present.

A bellowing voice asked from behind the door if he had arrived to the right house. We all screamed with joy. But when he entered, the tall silvery man, who knew us all by name, was a complete stranger. With a grand beard and a large wooden staff, this year, there were no sunglasses or false disguises.

Everything was going on as usual, until our moms wanted to take pictures and the time to reveal our master plan had come. We all looked at my oldest cousin, the leader of the non-believers, who was eyeing Santa with a mischievous but subtle look, that seemed to say, “Oh yes, we’re on to you.” And as he posed with Santa, he did it — he yanked Santa’s beard. But it didn’t come off. It was the real thing. Santa just chuckled as he pinched my cousin’s cheek.

In our last desperate effort, we asked to see Santa’s sleigh when he was leaving. But it turned out he had come in a rental car because there was no snow in Los Angeles and the reindeer were dying of heat. It was all very plausible. He was a damn good Santa and he had all of his bases covered.

With his image clearly in my mind, I still, to this day, cannot figure out who it was. In retrospect, he knew us all much too well to have been a neighbor or a rent-a-Santa. He was like an old friend, and yet I had never seen him before or after. Of course, my parents won’t tell me either.

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