2005-12-22 / Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

Santa Claus is working hard
By Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

Many years ago, when I was a kid, I overheard my parents having a conversation a few days before Christmas. I wasn’t really eavesdropping. It was just one of those innocent moments that happen for no good reason. They were talking in the kitchen and I was walking down the stairs. I’m sure they would have stopped if they heard me. Anyway — when I was about halfway down, I heard my Dad say, “After the kids are in bed, you go to grandma’s and pick up the presents while I assemble the bike.” I stopped and listened. I couldn’t help it. This sounded like important stuff.

My first response was, “Wow! I’m gettin’ a bike!” Then I heard Mom say, “And don’t forget the dollhouse.” That must be for my sister, I thought. Then it dawned on me that maybe I wasn’t supposed to be hearing this, so I sneaked back upstairs and into my room.

Then I started to think. Hmmm . . . why was dad assembling a bike, and why was Mom getting presents from grandma’s house? What happened to Santa Claus? Was he sick, or worse, and nobody told us?

If I asked, they’d think I was eavesdropping. All I could do was wait. It was only two more days, but it seemed like eternity. I was on the verge of panic. I had nobody to talk to. When Christmas Eve finally arrived, I went to bed, but couldn’t sleep. I heard the back door close and my mother’s car start. When she returned, I snuck out and looked down at the living room from the top of the stairs.

My dad was putting a dollhouse together. Then my mom came in, her arms loaded with wrapped presents. My dad spread them under the tree. Mom looked up and caught me watching. “What are you doing?” she asked. “I couldn’t sleep,” I answered. Then I asked, “What are you doing?” She didn’t say anything. I was sure that I caught my mom and dad red-handed. They were playing Santa Claus.

My dad said quietly, “I’ll handle this.” Then he asked me to come downstairs. I was afraid he might be mad, but he wasn’t.

“Why are you putting presents under the tree?” I asked. “Where’s Santa Claus?”

“Come into the kitchen, son,” my dad said. “I think it’s time we had a little talk.” I knew what he was going to say. The big kids were right. There was no Santa Claus. He wasn’t real. He was really Mom and Dad. My stomach felt like a hollow pit.

I sat down at the kitchen table. Dad made hot chocolate while Mom busied herself in the living room. When he sat down, I said, “Santa Claus isn’t real, is he?” I couldn’t help it. I just blurted it out.

“Now who’s been telling you that nonsense?” Dad asked.

“The big kids. They’re right. You’re really Santa, aren’t you?”

“Now don’t you believe that for a second. Can you keep a secret?”

“Yeah. I guess so,” I stammered.

“Santa’s job has gotten much too big over the last few years. I don’t want you telling other kids this, especially your sister. You’re getting to be a big boy now, and it’s time for you to know. But we don’t want kids to lose faith in Santa. We can’t have them thinking he can’t do his job. Do you understand?”

“I guess so. But where is he? Doesn’t he give us presents any more?” I asked.

“Son, there are hundreds of millions of kids in the world. When Santa first started, there was a fraction of that. Now, he can’t possibly deliver presents to everybody in one night. So he’s asked parents to help.”

I wasn’t sure how to take this. I just stared in disbelief.

“Santa knows what everybody wants and he sends presents all over the world for a month or so before Christmas. Grandmothers, grandfathers, moms, dads, and aunts and uncles hide them until Christmas Eve. Then we help put them under the tree for Santa.”

“So what does Santa do on Christmas Eve?” I asked.

“He gets a good night’s sleep after working so hard all year long so presents will be ready to deliver around the world in time for Christmas. Then on Christmas morning, he goes to church, and spends Christmas with his family just like we do.”

“Oh,” I replied. I didn’t know what to say. I was so relieved. It made sense though. How could Santa possibly go all over the world and stop at everybody’s house in one night? It was impossible. I felt grown-up. My dad treated me like a big kid. I drank my hot chocolate and went back to bed. I didn’t see a bicycle, but I was sure that Dad would put it together. I’m glad he told me the truth about Santa. The original story never did sound quite right.

Every year after that my mom and dad received a letter about a month before Christmas. It had a return address from the North Pole. They told me it was from Santa and that he was telling them what he was sending. He sometimes asked them to pick up a few things because he was pressed for time.

Thirty years later, when my son was of age, I told him that story, and I got the letters. When his children are old enough, I’m sure he’ll tell them the same tale. Santa Claus is alive and well, and he’s working hard — that’s a system our children will always understand.

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