I can’t remember ever really believing in Santa Claus. It may be that my parents just didn’t sell it, but honestly it never added up to me.
Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved the twinkly Christmas lights and the jazz-era standards — the Nat King Cole records my father would break out and play for the few weeks leading up to Christmas Day (although I found Ed Ames, another of dad’s Christmas faves, creepy from an early age).
It was a little like the one in The Wizard of Oz. Basically a tree-shaped booth with some poor bored sod stationed inside, who blinked and winked and wiggled the tree’s limbs, and — if you had the good fortune of not being accompanied by an adult — imparted all manner of snark through a microphone in a goofy voice whoever was inside imagined to be tree-like.
I am sure The J.C. Penney Talking Tree was the first to tell me flat-out that Santa didn’t exist. (Adults were always pretty, um, frank with me when I was a kid. I probably asked too many questions. Like any good interrogator, eventually I wore them out and, again, checking for an adult and not finding one in ear-shot, they more often then not confessed the ugly truth to me.)
We view childhood — even, or especially our own — through a haze of sentimentality. But I think most kids are much shrewder and more coolly rational than we give them credit for. I never felt the need to express my skepticism about Santa, or reveal what The Talking Tree had told me.
Like most kids, I had gathered you believe what you have to believe and tell whomever you have to tell whatever you have to tell them to get what you want for Christmas.