I stopped believing in Santa Claus exactly 14 years ago. (For those of you doing your math, I was in my mid 20’s.) It wasn’t my parents’ fault. Up until just a few years ago, I was still receiving gifts addressed to me “From: Santa.” I was still leaving cookies out for jolly ol’ St. Nicholas. I was still placing my Precious Moments stocking under the tree each year, confident as always that I was on the “nice” list.
But something happened that caused me to loose my faith. I became unequally yoked to an unbeliever.
Most pre-marriage counseling couples struggle with finances, children, or family of origin issues. Not Toby and I. We argued over whether or not our kids would believe in Santa Claus. It was our biggest point of contention. Partly because I still believed in the portly, red-suited legend.
And also the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Although I lost track of the Easter Bunny a few years back and had no use for the Tooth Fairy in my adult years.
As a kid, I can remember one Easter afternoon roaming the muddy, springtime woods of New Hampshire with my sister and Pop-pop searching for the Easter Bunny. After a good hour of searching to no avail, we came home to find my mother on the phone. As we stomped the slushy mud off our boots, she covered the receiver and whispered, “I saw him! I saw the Easter Bunny! He hopped right by the window while you were out.” And that’s all the proof we needed.
As for the Tooth Fairy, I had my doubts early on. One night, as I lay my recently pulled baby tooth under the pillow, I decided to write a short note to the Tooth Fairy. I wanted proof of existence. The letter read something like this: “Dear Tooth Fairy, I was wondering, what do you do with my teeth? And, could you leave a picture of yourself? Thanks, Rachel.”
Much to my disappointment, all I found alongside my dime was a roughly sketched pen drawing (I was hoping for a photograph) and a detailed explanation of her tooth library. Although I was interested in the idea of my pearly whites being filed away Dewey decimal style, the note (which was coincidentally written on notepaper from my dad’s desk) was written in all caps. Writing in all caps is a unique style of penmanship, characteristic of architects, construction management professors, and… my dad. This called all the evidence into question.
Back to my marriage problems. I don’t remember how it started, but we must have been discussing Christmas and Santa and happiness in general. Then out of nowhere, he attacked. “You mean your parents let you believe in Santa?” he said, accusingly. “Um. Yeah. Doesn’t everyone believe in Santa Claus?” “No!” he guffawed condescendingly.
And then it happened. My practically-perfect-in-every-way husband-to-be spoke the unthinkable. “You know, Santa doesn’t really exist, right?” I was speechless. Shocked. Defenseless. And then he shoved the dagger in deeper, “MY parents never lied to me.”
Hindsight being twenty-twenty of course, I now realize that Toby had probably spent most of his life on the “naughty” list, perfectly explaining his hurtful behavior. At the time, however, I was angry and confused. What did this mean for our poor, future children? But like most of the arguments I get into, give me time, and I usually find a way to win.
For the next few years, I endured way too many derogatory comments from Toby’s family pertaining to the ridiculousness of my Santa Claus beliefs. It took about two years of patient enduring. And then my moment came.
I remember sitting around his family’s dining room table. Toby’s family was discussing old stories of things that got lost around the house and other unexplained phenomenon. Activity of Igor, they said – the unwanted, creepy older brother who lived out-of-sight under the basement stairs. (In my house it was the Black Hole, but that’s beside the point.)
When stuff would disappear around the house, it was probably Igor. Can’t explain the noises coming from the basement? Igor. Toby and his siblings laughed as they fondly remembered scaring the neighborhood kids, telling them that Igor lived under the stairs. Remember the Goonies? Sloth. Yeah, that was basically Igor.
I took that moment to innocently ask, “So, your parents told you about Igor?” Toby laughed, “Yeah!” “And you believed them?” I asked. “Yeah!” Toby responded, still laughing. I carefully continued, not wanting my long awaited rebuttal to be lost, “So, is Igor real?” Toby looked at me blankly, as if questioning my IQ.
I used that sugar plum moment to reopen my case for Kris Kringle, citing that if he was allowed to believe in a terrifying, sock-eating, stair-squatting monster, why couldn’t our deprived children believe in Santa Claus. For the first time ever, Toby was speechless.
The long and the short of it is, Toby and I finally renegotiated. Instead of leaving Santa Claus completely out of the picture, Toby conceded on one condition, that we celebrate the gift-giving bishop of Myra, St. Nicholas, and not the imaginary figure who employs elves and a red-nosed reindeer. I happily agreed. It was the perfect compromise.
For the past decade now, every December 6, Toby and I and our children celebrate St. Nicholas Day. The kids leave their boots out overnight and receive – whether they’re naughty or nice – a few sweet treats (from their parents) to enjoy before Christmas. This year (shhhhhh) I plan on filling their boots with honey sticks, clementines, chocolate coins, and a coca-cola (I can’t resist). We will tell the story of the original Nicholas who secretly gave gifts to help those in need. And we will remind the kids why St. Nicholas did what he did. Because he understood the greatest Christmas gift of all – the coming of the Christ child.
And that, my friends, is how St. Nicholas saved our marriage.