This morning my seven-year-old daughter asked me where one might buy colored pencils like the ones she got for Christmas. They were in her stocking. They are short with lots of colors and come in a cardboard tube.
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“Can you buy them at a store near here?” she asked.
“How would I know?” I replied, “Didn’t Santa bring them?”
She looked at me with a big sneaky grin on her face. I knew then that she knew.
“Don’t you believe in Santa anymore?” I asked her.
I had thought maybe she’d figured it out. On Christmas morning, when she opened what she’d really wanted—a Barbie with a jumping horse—she came and gave me a big hug and said “Thanks.”
Santa had brought it.
“Well,” she answered me, “On Christmas our presents had tags on them. ‘To: _________, From: Santa.”
“Yes,” I acknowledged.
“Well. . . before Christmas I found those same tags under your bed.”
Let’s just say, I’m not the world’s best hider of secret things. And she’s a fairly smart girl.
Apparently, one of her friends at school loves her colored pencils and wants to go buy some for herself.
“So, where’d you get them?” my daughter persisted.
“At a store in Boise, the same store I bought the pencil sharpener you wanted,” I replied, not even trying to convince her I was just “helping” Santa.
(The pencil sharpener, by the way, is the shape of a dog. To sharpen the pencil, you put a pencil in its mouth and turn its tail. It’s ears bob and the shavings go into a little drawer that you pull out and empty. It’s very cute).
We don’t live close to Boise, Idaho, so I’m afraid her friend is out of luck.
I still remember when I learned the truth about Santa. I was young. I must have been very young because we moved when I was five and in my memory we are still in the old house, the house before we moved. My sister, who was a year and a half older came into our room one night and said, “I know who Santa Clause is.” It was either just before, or just after, Christmas.
“I know who he is, too. He is fat and wears red and lives at the North Pole,” I answered.
“No. That’s not true. Mom and Dad told me,” she said.
I don’t remember caring much, or maybe it was more than my brain could handle, but when I seemed not to be very interested in her new secret, she said:
“I’ll give you a hint: it is someone you know.”
How could Santa be someone I knew? He was fat and wore red and lived at the North Pole. Honestly, at this point in my life, no other option had occurred to me. I was, however, suddenly very interested in who Santa might be. I spent what seemed like a long time guessing everyone I knew. I didn’t know a lot of people at that age: I guessed all of our neighbors, the man at the grocery store, the postman, and people who went to church with us.
(Somehow I was still believing that someone in our neighborhood lived a life incognito: had reindeer, delivered gifts all over the world, and maintained a secret identity in our small Idaho town. After all, the North Pole was probably an awfully cold place to really live).
“Nope. . .no. . . not them,” was all I kept hearing from my sister every time I made a guess. Finally, I was down to the last person on earth: Alvero Jones. He had to be Santa Claus! He didn’t look like him, but he went to our church and, to me, he seemed like a cheerful, jolly, and kind man.
It wasn’t him either.
Finally my sister just broke down and told me: “It’s Mom and Dad, silly. They buy the gifts. They set them out for us. They are Santa Claus.”
It did make sense. It really did. But somehow I found myself disappointed. I hadn’t been ready to know the truth—not yet.
There was no one Santa Claus. There were millions of them. Every Mom and Dad. Of course the world worked that way. Of course there was no such thing as magic. I knew it in that moment, and in all my years since, I’ve never forgotten it.