SPOILER ALERT: The Santa Conspiracy
First off, I come from an interfaith family (my mother is Jewish but was never allowed to practice and my dad's family is largely agnostic). Because I was the only child on my dad's side, his family- comprised of my great grandmother, grandmother and my aunt- felt obligated to pull out all the stops for Xmas. Even though they did not believe, they figured they would give me the best, most magical Xmas they could. My Jewish grandmother married a lax at best Christian whose goal was to give me the most magical Xmas he could.
So my family kept up with the charade. I had lots of questions, however. The Santa Claus/Xmas myth always seemed too far fetched. When I was three years old, I vaguely remember creeping downstairs only to hear a grunting coming from the room with the Xmas presents and tree. I crept as close as I could to the room to recognize my dad's grunting. I rushed upstairs and was surprised to know that there was a tricycle with a tag from Santa. I was convinced that my dad was indeed "Santa". Then I began to scrutinize the myth. A fat man with flying reindeer giving toys to every child around the world in one night? My dad certainly wasn't powerful enough to pull that off. Then there was the whole omniscient thing. How could he know which children were good or bad let alone know what every child wanted?
It was a ruse, one I had to get to the bottom of. Why was there an elaborate lie about this being's existence and why was my family going along with it? Was it all some joke on the kid? (I was the only kid on both sides of the family which also meant that I was not only the only child but also the only granddaughter and only niece.) It didn't jive with my mother's parenting philosophy of explaining every question I had in great detail (she had a famous blue notebook that she'd bust out for any diagram or physics explanation). So why would she of all people try to convince me of such a fallacy?
I silently cooperated with this whole Santa conspiracy, keeping a close eye on all the adults involved. I asked incriminating questions and and kept a diary of all things Xmas. When forced to write letters to Santa in school, I would ask for the most outrageous things I could think of. Often, I'd throw my parents a surprise request long after the letter had been written. When the gift showed up, I'd question how Santa knew I wanted it because it was not in the letter. My parents would off-handedly say that Santa was "omniscient."
One typical year when I was 5 or 6, I was forced to write my letter to Santa in school. This time I made it outlandish saying I wanted a prize racing stallion to be donated to a children's charity in Nicaragua among other things. I did not even care when my mother asked if I wanted her to mail it. It made no difference to me.
Two weeks later, I received a small envelope made of the most lovely papyrus I had ever seen and closed with a red wax seal. The handwriting was more like calligraphy than someone's actual writing and there was a postmark from the North Pole. I carefully opened and read the letter which was not at all a form letter. The beautiful handwriting addressed everything in my letter and knew the names and locations of my family members. The letter commended me for wanting to give to children who were less fortunate and it was people like me who helped to ensure that every child could get a present. It assured me this year all my dreams would come true and was signed Santa.
When I mentioned I had gotten a letter from Santa, my mother exclaimed, "Oh!" But she did it in that way which proved that she not only knew about the letter but was somehow complicit in it. Why though?
Flash forward to 1988 the Xmas after my adopted grandfather passed away: the mood on my mother's side of the family is somber. She and both of her sisters hadexpected Gamba (maternal grandmother) to be completely wrecked by her husband's death. When she seemed mostly unaffected, they were sure that come holiday time the loneliness would finally hit her and she would be distraught. We showed up for "first Christmas" which was always celebrated a week before at her house. (Christmas day was celebrated with my dad's family). To our surprise, the house was decorated for Chanukah. She said we would, from here on out, be celebrating Chanukah instead of Xmas. My parents exchanged grimaces because they were not fond of new traditions and they feared this shift would confuse me.
"Christmas is ridiculous." Gamba stated in her thick Russian accent. "It is lie."
Panic struck my mother's face, "No, Mother. Christmas is a wonderful tradition."
"It is bullshit." Gamba said flatly, surprising all of us with her candor and by cursing which she rarely did. She continued, "You mean to tell me that fat man travel all over the world to give presents or coal to children? And all in one night no less? How is that possible? He couldn't do it with plane let alone flying horses!"
"It's reindeer, Mother." My mom's gaze shifted from one of anger at her mother to one of fear at me. She could see my lost innocence and childhood flashing before her eyes.
"I know reindeer. I seen them. They couldn't carry two of us in sled let alone fly." She stopped to see my uncomfortable expression and the look of panic shared between my parents. "This is not something she doesn't know."
My dad chimed in, "Well, I don't know. Santa comes every year and gives her presents. He even eats the cookies and drinks the milk--"
Gamba looked at me really hard, "They insult your intelligence. You know."
With all eyes on me, I meekly nodded. My parents were in too great of a state of shock to say anything. Gamba continued her tirade. "Christmas is such silly tradition. You buy presents for kids and say fat bearded man give them? Jews have it right. We give you presents not silly made up fat man. The mama and the daddy and the grandma, we give them. Thank not that phantom Christian thing."
The car ride home was silent. After some time, my mother turned to face me in the backseat and asked if I had known there was never a Santa or if Gamba had ruined the myth. I said that I had known.
"Well how for long?" she insisted.
"A little while now." I said sheepishly.
"How long is a little while?"
"A few years."
She was dumbfounded. "You're only eight! A few years?"
I nodded and that was the end of the tradition.
The mystery of the letter from Santa was left unmentioned. Later that night I confronted my mother about it. She didn't even remember it until explained in great detail. It turned out the only credible part of the whole Santa conspiracy was executed by my paternal grandmother, Mimi. She had my Xmas letter sent to some fancy service of calligraphers who replied thoroughly to the letter, using additional info provided by Mimi about my family, on fine papyrus and in calligraphy no less. The North Pole postmark still is a bit of a mystery, but as a bit of an older kid I'm okay with life having a little mystery to it.
305 views and 2 responses
Nov 21 2011, 12:55 PMMona responded:That picture is adorable. Interesting account, I enjoyed reading it!
Dec 19 2011, 2:00 PMLee responded:Thanks, Mona! I hope you and Andy are loving your new house and having a great holiday!