There are few greater barometers that mark the end of childhood than the realization that there is no Santa Claus. For some kids, it’s as simple as a switch being turned off. One moment they believe. The next moment, they don’t. For others, it’s a slow evaporation coated in the frost of denial. One way or another, it’s an inevitable part of growing up, like losing baby teeth, or learning how to ride a bike.
For parents, the notion that the magic of Santa Claus would one day run out was always a sobering reminder of how quickly youth and naïve innocence fades. It is easy to take for granted the finite nature of childhood and become complacent about the inevitable truth. That it is a necessary and rational transition into the next phase of life – a foreshadowing that life is full of letdowns and disappointments, often at the hands of the things we most cherish.
Nick Frost knew this better than anyone.
His daughter, Lucy, stopped believing just short of reaching 10. It was probably only a matter of time before she slipped and spoiled it for her little brother, even though she promised not to (unlike some kids who seemed hellbent on running Santa for their younger siblings). Charlie was six.
If there was any saving grace, it was that Charlie’s deep devotion to the man in red hate was like Teflon. His patented stubbornness only made him cling harder to his unwavering belief.
Though Nick was initially hopeful that his kids would believe as long as he did (he was 12 ), he knew he was being naïve, especially in the digital age. Also, he knew that 12 was simply too old for a kid to still believe. He remembered how badly he was teased and taunted by his heathen classmates who had stopped believe two, three, or even five years before. He was the last kid standing. And he refused to back down. Especially when motivated by the irrational fear that he wouldn’t be able to get presents anymore if he no longer believed. It was becoming increasingly evident that the sugar plum doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Ever since his first born, Nick actually was Santa at their extended family’s annual “Dago Christmas” party.
At the peak of his Santa duties, 15 believers eagerly awaited for their present to be hand-delivered from Santa himself. It was the closest he would ever feel to being a superhero.
As the years went on, each child stopped believing, one by one. And when you actually are Santa, you can’t help but feel your powers being drained – and there is nothing you can to stop it. And even though each child would eventually realize that Santa was really Uncle Nick, they knew not to tell those who still believed. And in return, they still got a present.
And before long, there was just one: Charlie. He wasn’t even the youngest, but the two younger ‘uns had stopped believing the previous year.
Though he had no way to be sure, Nick couldn’t help but feel that this was the last year.
He knew that it was inevitable that this day would come, nothing could prepare him for the sadness he felt. Being the neurotically nostalgic person that he was, it was consistent with the other things he “clung” to. Giving up the Santa “lie” was no different than giving up the crib, the toddler bed, the pacifier, the stroller, and even baby teeth. This was the same man who never threw away a ticket stub and saved candy wrappers from his high school girlfriend.
From the moment he found out his wife was pregnant with their first, there were three things he as most excited for: first baseball game, movies, and most of all, Christmas.
Christmas was such a big deal in his family and he wanted to impart the tradition onto his children. His wife, not so much. It wasn’t that she disliked Christmas. But to her, Christmas meant more clutter in the house (many of his beloved holiday décor remained in boxes year after year). There were many times she threatened to get rid of them all together.
In fact, for his daughter’s first Christmas, “Santa” went totally overboard and bought a smorgasbord of presents behind his wife’s back. On Christmas morning, she was shocked beyond disbelief to see the heaping pile of presents that he blamed on Santa. She knew better. And he should have. It almost ruined his marriage. He never made that mistake again. But his holiday spirt would soon payoff: when the family’s elders decided to incorporate a visit from Santa at the annual Christmas party, it was an anonymous decision to appoint Charlie.
Year after year, none of the kids ever seemed to notice that Uncle Charlie was conveniently missing during Santa’s visit. But if they did question it, the answer would be simple: Uncle Charlie was in the bathroom. Nobody would be surprised.
This year, Charlie had a sad, sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was the feeling that a chapter was coming to an end that he wanted to see last forever. And there was nothing he could do to stop it, short of stopping time. Not even Santa himself could do that.
After dinner, Charlie slipped into an upstairs bedroom and put on the Santa outfit (which had certainly seen better days based on both sight and smell). He couldn’t help but wonder: would this be the last time he donned the suit? Soon, it would be hidden away in storage, like so many toys brought by Santa that now sat collecting dust in the basement, or had already been donated or given away.
Waiting for him in the corner was a garbage bag filled with the presents that parents brought for their children. He realized he never did get a real Santa sack. It was all but too late now.
After slipping into Santa’s boots, it was showtime!
“Ho, ho, ho!” Nick shouted with glee, as he made his way down the steps and into the basement where everyone was gathered.
With his son being the lone believer left standing, he no longer felt obligated to make eye contact with every child as he made it a point to do so in the past, and was therefore able to keep most of his attention on his son, who stood transfixed, brimming with delight as he did every year with visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in his head.
If only he could stop time. Nonetheless, it was a moment that would exist in the photo album of his mind.
And then it dawned on him. Just maybe he would get another year out of this after all. But even so, this much was certain: time was running out. And he continued to have a hunch that this year would be it. Either someone would spill the beans, or Charlie would figure it out on his own.
He took solace in the idea that someday, he might have grandchildren and he could relive these memories all over again. But he didn’t exactly want to get old.
But for now, he still had this moment. And a kid who still believed. Nothing could take that away from him.
Well, except time, of course.
As much as he wanted to embrace this moment, he couldn’t help but think of the sadness hangover he would feel when it was all said and done, especially as he lay wide awake at night wondering where the time had gone.
But in this moment, he was Santa Claus. And to remain jolly, he had to cast these melancholy thoughts behind and get to the task at hand.
He passed out all the gifts to the non-believers who still believed in the magic of Christmas presents. He saved Charlie’s present for last.
“And last, but not least, Charlie, who had been waiting ever-so-patiently. Here ‘ya go, Charlie!” Santa said handing his stars-struck son his gift, knowing full well that there was no way he could ever possibly make this son this happy minus the suit.
Charlie opened the gift. A stuffed Curious George – his favorite character. He gave it a giant hug. In that moment, there was nothing more special for either of them. Unlike other toys, he had a feeling that this one would be cherished for the rest of his life.
And just like that, the moment was over, as all the gathered for their annual picture with Santa. And though the magic was gone for everyone but Charlie, the tradition wasn’t.
It was finally his son’s turn to jump into lap.
“Have you been a good little boy?” Santa asked.
Charlie nodded his head.
“You always are!”
“Sometimes, I get in trouble, though.”
“But you are always sorry. And that’s important.”
“I love you, Santa,” Charlie said. “And I will always believe in you. I’ll never stop believing.”
With that, he gave Santa an enormous hug. Bigger than the one he gave to Curious George even.
Thank God for a big white beard to both conceal and sop up the tears.
“I love you, too,” Nick said.
Charlie jumped off his lap. Nick watched him run off to join his non-believing cousins, for whom the magic had ended. But for one more year, it didn’t end for Charlie. He hoped to God nobody would spoil it. At least, not on this night. Then again, the moment was already preserved for all time no matter what happened.
It was the type of magic that could be live forever.
If you let it.