I didn’t have a chance to write my letter to Santa this year. All December long, I kept a running list in my head, and, just like the boys, added and subtracted things along the way. I never took pen to paper, partially because there was always something else to do. Decorating our tree, decorating mom’s tree, coordinating teacher presents, Christmas cards, fixing the strands of lights that had gone out, baking, assembling, guessing which Star Wars lego sets were really the ones the boys wanted.
And partially because I was mentally culling the list in my head, as I weighed the relative merits of, say, a laundry robot versus having UVA win the NCAA tournament. Like my boys, I understood the potential risk of committing myself to one wish too soon.
New curtains fell to the bottom of the list when the bottom of my kitchen drawers literally fell out, skyrocketing new cabinets to the top of the list. And after a particularly frustrating day of parenting, asking for self-cleaning dishes seemed less important than one day – just one – in which everyone in my house actually listened to every word I said. For a few days, I was really hot on asking him to move up Thanksgiving to extend the Christmas season. Four weeks is just not enough time for all the magic and hope and sparkle of Christmas. But I was willing to live with the status quo in exchange for having all the piles of crap that adorn the floors and counters of my house just mysteriously vanish.
But the reality is that all of those things are a little too. . . banal for Santa (except maybe for the NCAA title). Santa, after all, is where you turn when your parents have said no, when you’ve exhausted all of your earthly options, when you are running on the fumes of hope.
And the truth was, what I really wanted was something Santa couldn’t bring me. I want my dad back. And there was a part of me that believed – like that scene in Miracle on 34th Street (the original black and white version thank you very much) where Natalie Wood is so sure that if she finally believes in Santa he will bring her a home – that somehow he would be there under my tree on Christmas morning. Or at least standing in the kitchen making an Irish coffee and singing Mele Kalikimaka completely off-key. But Santa, as far as I know, is still not in the resurrection business.
And so I never wrote my letter.
Late in the night on December 23rd, I finally went upstairs to begin the tedious task of wrapping everything. I was tired, overwhelmed, and frustrated that the season I love more than anything had passed me by. As I searched through my giant Tupperware bin of jumbled ribbons and bows looking for gift tags, I thought I had reached my breaking point when I reached down to the very bottom and pulled out this:
A piece of Christmas past. A memory of my old life in the form of a Santa hat tag with my dad’s handwriting on it.
Turns out, I didn’t have to write that letter after all. Santa knew what I wanted all along. We put that tag on a present to my mom that dad had gotten her before he died. And in some way that none of us could understand, he was palpably there with us all Christmas day.
There will be a day when my boys come to me and ask me whether Santa is real. And I will pull out this tag and tell them that I know with every fiber in my being that he is. That you are never too old to believe.
You just need faith.
Just like John Payne tells Natalie Wood in Miracle on 34th Street, faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to…