My memories within the Christmas season are simple, delicate and one that forever changed my outlook on life: the moment I found out Santa wasn’t real.
Christmas is always my favorite time of year. I sing Carols during the hottest day of July and keep an upside down decorated Christmas tree in my bedroom from the ceiling all year round. My dad would take me to see Santa at the mall and we would get a slice of cheese pizza and an Orange Julius every time.
Piling in the family car to go look at Christmas lights and baking Kolaches and almond barked pretzels are my simple memories. Every Christmas Eve since I was born and probably before, my parents would make the same dinner of Alaskan pollock, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and rolls. I couldn’t stomach this meal until my teens, but now this dinner tradition is still done by myself and siblings and something I hope to continue with my own kiddos.
Christmas, however, took a different turn for me one summer. We were doing yard work and I kept asking my mom “Is Santa real?” She kept telling me yes and to stop asking. Having gone to a Catholic school since Kindergarten I pulled out the big words and said, “you know you go to hell if you lie,” and that is when my mom shut the mower off and said, “he’s fake, not real!”
I started to cry. Not a sad sniffle but an all out wail of “why have you forsaken me!!!” cry. I, Elle Patocka, at the age of 13ish had found out Santa wasn’t real. I was remembering a conversation at lunch in 5th grade with a girl who made fun of me for believing and I said “my parents don’t have a lot of money so I know Santa brings me my gifts.” She responded with, “Parents can get loans for that.”
Even then I kept believing.
The year I found out he wasn’t real, I stopped having my traditional Christmas dream. I literally had the same dream for over a decade of Santa picking me up on my neighbors roof and taking me around in his sleigh. That year, there was nothing. And since then, even when I try to daydream about this dream and fall asleep with those dream memories, they never come to me in my dream. That magic was lost, forever.
I believed in someone for so long and well past expiration and I tend to still tell young children “be careful, Santa is watching” because I think deep down my inner believer is still there and never left. Perhaps something doesn’t have to be real, to believe in it. I know there isn’t a real human who smashes on millions of cookies and climbs into homes to deliver toys in the middle of the night all around the world, but as the cliché saying goes, I do believe in the spirit of that person.
Granted my folks kept me believing for so long. I thank them for that, and I thank them for finally telling me the truth because I am the type of person that wants to believe in something at all costs. Even though my Santa sleigh ride dreams have halted and I no longer go sit on mall Santa’s lap, (I might look like the creepy one in that scenario) I still leave cookies out to this day – at age 27 – because a part of me won’t let go. My heart didn’t break that day mowing the lawn, it grew and grew. It made me realize the simplicity of the season. It helped me realize that Christmas wasn’t all about Santa, it was about taking in the lights, the music, the feeling of believing in something wondrous.
I haven’t decided how I will raise my family. Will I fill my kids’ heads up with these grand stories of a red suited dude that has flying reindeer, or will I let them decide on their own? I almost want to keep this tradition for them so they don’t become that little kid in 5th grade who tries to tell other kids reasons of why they shouldn’t believe. I would hope that me surviving the length of believing in Santa would be reassurance to my kids that I allowed them to believe in something so they too could find the meaning of Christmas for themselves. One that never lead me to pulling down a Santa’s beard.