A Christmas Revival
by Debby Cruz (aka Diane E. Bryan)
“Mom, is there really a Santa Claus?”
There they were. Those words every mother dreads. The end of innocence as control passes into her child's hands.
“Yes, Joey, there is.” I could say, and postpone the inevitable. Or I could give him a hug, say “No,” and feel guilty forever.
Somehow, neither choice tasted right. I mean, this is a very sweet boy we're talking about, and only seven years old. How could I lie to him? Or worse, how could I take away, at this tender age, the romance which lasted me through the fifth grade at least?
Inspiration gleamed through the haze. I followed.
“What makes you ask, Jo-bo?”
“Well, only two kids in our class believe in him. Three including me. Is he real, Mom?”
“Hard to say, hard to say.” No, temporizing wasn't going to help. So I dived in.
“When I was a little girl Santa didn't just come at night. On Christmas Eve we would wait by the window, scratching designs in the frost until, just before bedtime, he would arrive. Now, in New England, just about everybody had a station wagon, but somehow we always knew Santa's wagon. As soon as the car pulled up he would leap out with his sack. Bells would jingle, and as we rushed to the door, there he would be … Santa Claus!”
“The real Santa, Mom, or just a helper like the guy with the bell at the subway? Is he the real Santa, the subway guy?”
This wasn't going to be easy.
“Well, I was pretty sure this guy was Santa. He felt all chilly and furry like the North Pole, and in his bag he'd have a present for each of us with our name on it, tied with twine. He always spelled our names right, and that wasn't easy! Yep, I'm pretty sure it was at least a very important elf.”
“But then in fifth grade someone told me Santa was a fake, like your friends did. My best friend, Betsy Payne laughed at me when I told her I was excited about seeing him
'That's just the Principal of Center School!' she told me, 'and sometimes my girlfriend's father. My mom works at the school when all the parents bring the presents, and then the fake Santas bring them to you."
“This was crushing news!”
“You know, kiddo, I don't know who I was madder at, Betsy or my mom. I stormed into the house and demanded an explanation. Mom said it was true, they were only helpers, and this year I could help her keep the secret. Then my big sister confessed to having known for over a year. Misery had company, at least.”
“But what about when you're asleep? What about that Santa? My friends say it's the moms.” Joey was desolate. I could leave him that way!
“Hmmm, sometimes, but let me tell you what I've learned. I'm a mom, myself, and one of my favorite things to do is to plan special gifts for you that I know you'll love. It's really fun seeing you all happy.
“But sometimes things show up on Christmas morning that nobody planned. I started noticing this after you were born. Before that I was still getting stockings from my Mom, and I took it all for granted. Then, when I became the official Santa's helper, strange things started happening.”
“You mean like Twilight Zone strange?”
“Or like Ernest Saves Christmas...?”
Not a bad idea, but in another year he'd never believe it. So I said no, I hadn't ever been in a sleigh or popped down chimneys.
“Then what strange?”
In my best dramatic style, I waxed mystical.
“Things would show up in the stockings. Not big things, but marvelous magical things. The little something I forgot to buy, the perfect knick-knacks that make a personal treasury, always one in every stocking."
“I know!” said Joey, his voice dropping, “They were from Santa Claus!”
“So how does he get his mail?”
“Oh, parachutes, seaplanes, dogsleds, snowmobiles... whatever it takes!”
“Does he give something to everybody? Even aliens?”
“I think Santa has enough to do taking care of humans. Aliens probably have their own Santa.”
“Yeah, one with green skin!” And antennas!”
It had worked. The magic was back, the fantasy intact. Joey was glowing with dreams and wishes once more.
And I felt smug. And I felt rotten.
It wasn't going to work. I know this world. If there's a way to burst your bubble, there's somebody with the pin down the road, just waiting. Why believe at all? Why build up his dreams?
Dishes and laundry and typing and cooking and paying bills. All night I distracted myself, but the rottenness wouldn't leave.
I stayed up late and griped at my Q-friends until 2am when somebody noticed how unpleasant I could be, and said so. I slunk into bed.
And I woke in a funk. Something was not sitting right. Like a pin in a corset. Like a pea in a pillow. Like a shell in a souffle – I just couldn't get at it.
Joey was happy with my invention, so why wasn't I? Finally, three loads of laundry later, I sat myself down in a darkened room and I let it come.
And it came. Like an old friend, them memory slipped into the room. How had I forgotten? Now I relived it and this time I let myself see.
I was twenty-one years old, spending my first Christmas alone in New York City. I don't know what had possessed me to do it, but there I was the evening of the 24th, alone with my little tree, caroling until I was hoarse. Charlie Brown's tree would have been an improvement. As the dried little needles fell to the floor, so did my spirits.
Mom had mailed me my stocking to put over the fireplace, and presents from family covered the apron. But I was miserable! A lot of brothers and sisters being foolish and noisy would have felt very good right about then.
At nine o'clock I gave up being cheerful and went to bed. I woke to eggnog and fruitcake, which was all I had in my fridge besides the TV turkey dinner. Then I opened the gifts. They were fine. Mom always had a way with little things, and I called to thank her.
“We miss you, Doll!”
“Me too, Mom. Gotta go.” I was going to cry.
My big brother was easier. “So long Ol' Deb!”
And my sister, “Bye, Diabledy!”
When I'd used up relatives and thank-yous I realized I had one gift left unaccounted for. I didn't remember unwrapping it, and Mom didn't remember putting it in my stocking.
It wasn't much. Just the tiniest of glass animals, but I couldn't stop looking at it. The closer I got, the more lively the detail, until it danced before my eyes, a little crystal pony.
The pony I wanted when I was five; the pony I learned to draw when I was eight; the pony ridden by Frodo and Sam when I was twelve. There he was, childhood's companion inviting me to an adventure.
Then I put him away. Perplexity and loneliness do not make a good stew, and in my pain and isolation I selectively forgot this tiny wonder.
I shook off the reverie and turned on the light. Perhaps in the back bedroom closet... there were a few boxes of bric-a-brac still unopened from our move last year. Perhaps...
Yes. Here with the porcelain owl and the hippo candle holder, wrapped in tissue. This must be it.
As the light struck the tiny form, my heart was dazzled anew with the wonder. The wonder of Santa for those who really need him.
“Know the giver by the gift,' they say. I hadn't even recognized the gift. If you will excuse me now, I'm a little light-headed! But I have to go tell a little boy about a pony.