I found out pretty early about the Santa thing. My mother claims she broke down and told me when I was about five and that I was incredulous, asking, "Are you sure, Mom? Are you sure?" I think she simply hadn't begun to recognize my sarcastic tone at that age.
I don't remember Santa ever seeming plausible. I knew that the Santa upon whose lap I sat at my preschool was, in fact, my father. I remember staring at him silently, unable to tell him what I wanted for Christmas. I mean, I knew Santa might bring it, but I wasn't sure about my father. I didn't want to whisper into his artificial white curls that I still wanted a Monchhichi doll, and that I didn't think there was anything girly or wrong with a little monkey baby doll that could stick its fingers and toes in its little puckered plastic mouth. (In retrospect, perhaps my father should have been concerned, but for a different reason.)
My faith in Jesus Christ was probably the next thing to go, though I did my best for years. I loved the whole idea of Christ in fact -- the immaculate conception, the manger, the animals, wise men, choirs of angels. I think I imagined it as this whole conceptualized Madonna concert.
My mother was "born again" shortly after breaking to me the truth about the Santa myth. It was a blessing that I didn't believe in him because we were ever after foresworn from identifying with any of the "pagan" symbols of Christmas. That pretty much took out Santa, Mrs. Claus, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph (all the reindeer, in fact, so I've never learned their names) and even Gingerbread Men. "None of those things even exist," she said flatly. I neglected to point out that some of those things did actually exist, primarily snowmen, reindeer and cookies. I didn't want to argue with her; without Santa or the elves, I knew I was depending on someone to get me something for Christmas.
I knew kids who got to wake up with the Christmas morning sun, run to the tree and start screaming. My little brother and I, however, were required to stay in bed until my mother came in and wished us a "Happy Jesus' Birthday." This was usually around 9 a.m., far after most of my friends would have opened all of their video games and action figures, most of which my mother would have claimed were "demonic." I generally expected more homemade clothing and maybe (oh please, please, please!) a Snoopy Sno-cone Machine. My father couldn't object to something like that, and he was certainly trying to win our affection after the divorce. And my mother could not possibly claim that Snoopy was demonic, right?
My Uncle Dan, who had convinced my mother to be born again and had gladly taken us in after the divorce, would insist on reading the Bible for no less than an hour before we opened any gifts. You would think that the first few chapters of any of the gospels would have sufficed, or even a paraphrased version of the story of Baby Jesus. But Uncle Dan inevitably jumped to the end of the story, which, if you are familiar with any of the gospels, is not a cheery conclusion. I guess he couldn't wait until Easter Sunday to tell us of the tragic crucifixion and (alleged) resurrection of the Son of God. This also seemed odd because without the Easter Bunny or the colored eggs (both definitely demonic), there wasn't much else to do on Easter Sunday.
I have never received either a Monchhichi or a Snoopy Sno-cone Machine. But somehow I've never stopped believing in Christmas itself. For a while I stopped caring so much, mostly because I was a teenager and was supposed to think that everything sentimental was stupid. Then I came out of the closet and recommitted to Christmas with a fury. Each of my last dozen and a half Christmases or so have been eagerly anticipated, meticulously planned and shaped within an inch of their merry and bright life -- while the old Macy's Christmas Mantra danced in my head: Believe! Believe! Believe!
But I've realized over that last few years that I don't even really know what that means to believe in Christmas. I know what it means to commit to Christmas as I purchase my tree the first moment after Thanksgiving that my boyfriend will allow, as I make sure to walk every open-air holiday market on the island of Manhattan at least once, and as I drink no less than 12 Low-fat Egg Nog Lattes between Thanksgiving and Christmas (one every other day, maybe more depending on when Thanksgiving falls that year). Oh, and I must ice skate at least once, but only before Christmas Day, not after (because then it doesn't mean that much, and, honestly, ice skating is not that fun.)
Certainly none of those traditions has anything to do with believing in Christmas, but more with a frantic attempt to make Christmas mean something. But when I really look at myself, in either the reflection of a perfectly spaced bulb on the tree or the blade of the scissors as I create the perfect ribbon curl (you know how it sounds -- oh my god, the thrill!), I realize that I do believe. I really do. Yes, Virginia, you do believe in Christmas.
This year, I'm trying to test what that means. I believe in Christmas. I choose to have faith in this Christmas, faith enough to let it do its thing. I'm going to let Christmas do its thing while I simply sit back and enjoy it.
(I do hope Christmas's thing this year happens to be my boyfriend proposing and my Christmas dinner coming out perfect. But I'm totally fine with whatever.)