The phone rang, “Hello”  I answered. “Hey Mom, I just got a call from my neighbor lady, boy was she mad!”  My daughter went on to explain that her children ages 5, 7 and 9 told the 5-year-old neighbor girl that Santa wasn’t real.  The mother was so angry with this revelation that she forbade the children to play with her daughter.  In “Miracle on 34th Street,” the question of the entire movie was: Is Santa real?  Throughout the movie the correct response was “I believe.”

So the debate continues, is Santa real?  Do you believe in Santa Claus?  Raising my family with a strong Santa tradition, I tended to keep one foot in each camp.  We don’t believe in Santa like we believe in Jesus, we believe in Santa like we believe in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.  They are really fun mythical characters to believe in and if you do, you get presents, candy or money, depending upon which character and season you’re celebrating.  (As for the Tooth Fairy, she is not season specific.)  My children’s father believed in Santa with all his heart.  He boldly explained to the children that Santa is real, and if you quit believing in him, he will stop bringing you presents.  My kids all agreed with the phrase, “I believe!”  

As for me, I grew up with Santa Claus.  My Mom would start singing “Oh you better watch out, you better not pout, you better not cry, I’m telling you why…He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naught and nice…and so on.  She would maintain that Santa was watching our every move and if we were naughty, we wouldn’t get presents.  I do not remember ever being threatened with a lump of coal.  We were often told that Santa would take the presents back.  I remember Mom and my brother arguing about something and she told him she was going to take his Christmas presents back.  He told her she couldn’t because they came from Santa Claus.  Mom promptly replied, “Well, who do you suppose gives him the money for those present?”  He responded that Santa’s elves made the toys.  She not so  patiently explained that moms and dads provided the money for the toys no matter who made them, and if we fought or argued, or didn’t listen,  she would contact Santa and cancel the order.

Mom used to sing “Jolly Old Saint Nicolas…Johnny wants a pair of skates, Susie wants a dolly...” and she would continue the song by adding the names of our cousins.  Such a sweat song with a Billy, a Johnny, a Susie and a Steven.  I haven’t heard the song with those exact lyrics since I was young.

Santa brought us lovely gifts, in spite of all Mom’s threats.  They were never wrapped, so we always knew where they came from.  Our friends told us Santa wasn’t real.  We argued with them because we wanted to believe.   Typically, we had to hide in our bedrooms when my parents heard Santa outside.  I never heard him, but they were adamant that he was just outside and if he found us still up with our cousins, he wouldn’t leave our gifts.  So, we would hide, shush each other, giggle until some adult would stick their head into the room and admonish us to be very quiet or Santa wouldn’t come.  When we were finally allowed to leave the bedroom, the milk and cookies would be gone and there would be gifts under the tree.  

When I was 8, I had proof positive that Santa was real.  On our way home from Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve, we pulled in to our driveway and saw Santa Claus in our living room.  We had a big picture window and the lights were on.  We could see him moving around the room.  He had a broad face, and a pretty round belly, with a red suit and hat,  black boots and a white beard.  It was amazing to see him.  We hurried into the house because catching Santa when we were getting home late was not at all the same as staying up too late at home.  As we entered the house, he was slipping out the back door.  My aunt spoke to him, but he seemed pretty nervous and was anxious to get away.  When we told the kids at school, they said it was our dad, but dad was in the car with us, so it was not Daddy!

More recently, last Saturday, I got a hug from Santa!   My dad is no longer alive, and my husband was with me, so he had to be the real McCoy, I mean the real Santa.  This Santa was the most believable  Claus I have ever seen.  He flew into the airport on Saturday morning because his sleigh is being outfitted for Christmas Eve.  He spent most of the day in Fergus Falls and thrilled hundreds of kids at the Over the River Holiday Festival.  I hope you had a chance to see him.  Did you get a hug?

As children, my brother and I had a fabulous time pretending.  I don’t know at what age children begin pretending, watching my children, and their children, I think it’s at about 3 years old.  We enjoyed the fun of “believing” in Santa.  We enjoyed pretending,  that was our Christmas tradition.  We enjoyed the game our parents played in pretending, right down to the threats Mom used to leverage us into good behavior.  We knew the toys would arrive, we knew it was part of the game.  Others handle Santa differently, and that’s OK too.  My grandkids don’t do Santa like we did when I was young, and that’s OK, every family develops their own traditions.  What are your traditions?  Do you believe? 


Sue Wilken is a lifelong resident of Fergus Falls. Her column appears on Thursday.


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