It's that time of year again.
The stockings are hung. Carols abound. And the smell of all things delicious is continually wafting through the air.
It is said to be a time of peace. Of joy. Of forgiveness. Of hope. Of tradition.
While Christmas (excuse me, holiday) traditions vary from home to home, most include the belief in a gift-giver of sorts. Of unabashed over-indulgence. And of quality time spent with those you love.
In my family, such quality time begins with Grandma telling an often-inappropriate story around the Christmas tree (last year's topic: necking) and inevitably ends with my father reminding everyone about The Year Sara Was Duped...which goes a little something like this:
It was the most wonderful time of the year and I had just reached that age when the magic of Santa was beginning to wear off. While part of me desperately wanted to ignore any inklings that shed doubt on that jolly old soul, I couldn't help but feel a bit wary of it all.
So when my four-year-old brother Brian suggested we mail our lists off to the North Pole, I played it cool. Sure, I agreed to record his requests for Legos and a bicycle and any super-powered, turbo-engine item he could find, but I had no interest in including a wish list of my own. No matter how bad I wanted that American Girl doll.
I dutifully wrote down each item, sealed the envelope and gave it to my father to mail--expecting absolutely nothing in return. Time went on and within a few weeks I had all but forgotten my letter.
One Saturday afternoon, I found myself tapping my foot impatiently outside of Santa's Workshop as I waited in line to see the big guy (or the big guy's helper, I suppose). Surrounded by tufts of fake snow and smiling elves, I tried to mirror my brother's enthusiasm, but instead found myself squirming uncomfortably in my scratchy Christmas sweater as the runny-nosed toddler in front of me let out a piercing wail.
Three sticky candy canes later, we were finally--mercifully--at the front of the line.
As Brian tugged on my father's coat sleeve in eager anticipation, it was all I could do to paste a wan smile on my face and hope that the visit was over quickly. Brian bounded up the stairs as I trudged sulkily behind him until--
"Well come on up, Sara and Brian!" The Claus bellowed heartily. "So great to see you!"
I stopped in my tracks. Wait. Hold on a second. Did he just say...
"Dad!" I hissed. "He knows our names!"
My father smiled from underneath the (enormously cumbersome) videocamera. "Go on and say hello," he urged.
I continued up the stairs and as I approached, I heard Brian peppering Santa with questions.
"Don't you get hot in that suit? Did Jacob the Horrible make the Good List this year? Are you sure you know how to get to our house this year? We moved you know..." he said breathlessly.
"Ho! Ho! Ho! You sure are a spirited fellow," Santa chuckled. "So nice of you to join us, Sara!"
"Um, hey Santa," I mumbled.
"Santa! Santa!" Brian interrupted. "Don't you want to know what I want for Christmas?"
"Of course!" Santa said with a twinkle in his eye. "But Brian, I already know what you want for Christmas."
And to my complete and utter amazement, he proceeded to remove an envelope from the inside of his breast pocket.
MY envelope. With MY handwriting. It was the very list I had written!
Impulsively, I snatched the envelope from Santa's hand.
"But...but..." I spluttered. "But I wrote this! How did you--? I mean, I thought you weren't...I mean, Christina said that you were..." I trailed off, the color rising in my cheeks.
Delighted and oblivious, Brian rattled on with his latest additions to his list as I sat dumbfounded.
"...and Hot Wheels...and a parachute...and a Ninja Turtle!" he finished triumphantly.
"You sure will keep those elves busy this year! Ho! Ho! Ho!" Santa said, a bit of spittle gathering around his yellowing beard.
"And you?" Santa asked, turning towards me. "What do you want for Christmas?"
I slowly and dazedly began recounting the items on my wish list, still unable to take my eyes off the envelope.
"...and a Barbie Dream Home." I finished. "Please." I added in a small voice.
"Well ho! Ho! Ho! Looks like we've got a believer after all!" He smiled revealing coffee-stained teeth.
"Yeah..." I said decidedly, gaining more resolve with each passing moment. "You're right!"
"Ho! Ho! Ho!" he chortled again. "Merry Christmas to you both! You kids be good now!"
And with that we scurried off to join our parents.
As I recounted the tale, my voice full of wonder and increasing volume-- "You don't underSTAND! He knew our NAMES! That was MY HANDWRITING! MINE! Did you SEE THAT?! DID you?!"--my dad gave a knowing wink to the jolly, happy soul and whispered, "Thanks man--see ya at work tomorrow."
In that moment, I decided to push aside my doubts, ignore my questions and blindly embrace my belief in the magical. The fantastical. The imaginative side of life that some so quickly dismiss as improbable.
...that is, until I found the packaging from all the Easter candy sitting on top of the trashcan a few months later.
As Michael Scott would say, "Fool me once, strike one. Fool me twice, strike three."