Breaking the carrot and beavering the tip to approximate the look of reindeer teeth, I'd chuck the nubs into the front yard with a lil glitter. On snowy years, after a quick owl neck surveying the street, I'd take a quick pee in the snow, from the shovelled walk, dropping a group of raisins to approximate the look of reindeer poo.
Back inside, after present assembly and staging is complete, I'd channel a hurried Santa, horfing the cookies, wake of crumbs falling out of my imaginary long white beard. "Such a slob this Santa", I think, finding the taste of milk an odd chaser for Cabernet. This is the bowl full of jelly part of life and I never want it to end. I turn off the fireplace to not burn the poor chap, open the fireplace gate and leave it askew.
A recent move to the UK has my eight-year-old daughter exposed to friends stacked with older siblings and their belief in Santa has surrendered to a reality where nonfictional coolness is more important than magically appearing presents fiction. We all get there at some point, just some sooner than others. As for her excitement to tell her friends of the daily silliness of her Elf on the Shelf, Elfvis, their response is raised eyebrow, head cocked down to imply "Really? You Americans are so sweet!"
Our daughter says that this tidal wave of doubt has not impacted her belief, saying the magic only works if you believe. I want to tell her the truth, but my longing for her innocence is stronger. We let her drive the conversation and nod, staying as neutral as possible to not pile on more deception for future therapists to excavate from the growing pile of our parenting fumbles. My Wife Stacie and I have prepared our speech when we do open her up to this inevitable reality. Perhaps it will be next year, or the year after? Like wisdom teeth removal, this moment is coming, whether we like it or not.
Eight years of matching pajamas waiting at the top of the stairs at the inhumane hour of 6:30am, while I go down and slap a freshly charged battery in the camera. "Oh my gosh!" I'd channel my inner Sissy Spacek. "Santa's been here." I flip on the lights of the tree. "So much stuff, and the cookies and milk are gone!" Make sure coffee is brewing, "I can't believe it, so magical. Wow, Wow Guys!" I'm so tired, I start to believe it myself, we green light their fast float down the stairs to the presents.
I remember that feeling, that anticipation, that once in a lifetime time and place where there is only goodness, only heaven. There are no wars, Brexit, heart disease or ingrown toenails. In this moment there is just love, magic, giving and joy. I look through the camera, thinking of how amazing it is to be in this moment right now. I imagine a time looking at that photo longingly later, balder, greyer. I recommit myself to being here now, happy to open this beautiful gift that is the present. "OK, smile! Merry Christmas!"
After 41 years of studying Santa, I got to be Santa this year, taking my complicity in this massive fairy tale to a new level. The kid's school was doing a "Santa Grotto". (Hugh Hefner has permanently sullied the word "Grotto" in America, but over here it still sounds charming and nice.) I made sure my kids did not know of this addition to my resume, and for one hour I heard the hopes and dreams of wonderful kids.
In my best fat, jolly and kind guy voice I'd begin, "Merry Christmas (insert name here), I know for a fact that you have been a good, kind and thoughtful (insert boy or girl) this year." Even a broken clock is right twice a day. I'd continue, "Now I have some of the most talented elves up at the North Pole who love nothing more than making special creations for amazing children. Is there anything in particular you'd like me to pass on to them?"
25% of the kids had very high estimation of just how good they were last year or figured they had nothing to lose by barfing the entire Hamley's stock list on my lap. "Well those are both good gaming platforms," I'd reply in measured tones. "We'll see what we can do. The Elves have quite a bit on their plate as you can imagine," I'd reply, realizing any affirmation could put Mom and Dad into night jobs.
25% had a realistic list, and we'd discuss the genius of that choice and creation, "Such creativity and vision those Shopkins. I have quite a collection myself. Mrs. Claus said I needed to cool it, as some of the elves were thinking they were real food. The North Pole Dentist was quite busy with broken elf teeth."
50% who were either star struck, frozen under pressure, or blissfully unmaterialistic had no idea what to ask for. These were my favorites, as we could discuss what they like, "You look like an artist to me. Don't you like to draw and paint? I'm a bit of an artist myself. Much to the elves' chagrin I was painting some new flame designs on my sleigh, if I didn't get the biggest drip running down the sleigh, had to get than sander out. Huge mess. Well anyway make sure to get your parents permission and zoom me up a letter with anything else you think of, just put it in the post, no stamp needed, address it Santa, North Pole."
Especially now that my soul is on the line, when we have that talk with our kids we'd like to say it wasn't a deception. "People make the magic of life real by giving their gifts and being present. Santa is the spirit of kindness, goodness and love. I know Santa is real, because that is who you are."
Merry Christmas all you Santas!