By Ilana Segel
I’ve never believed in Santa Claus. I was always aware of his “existence” from the seemingly endless stream of Christmas carols and tales, but I wasn’t totally sold. I didn’t believe there could be a man who delivered presents all across the globe in one night, or that he had a crew of flying reindeer to help him out. (Although I did always enjoy the Rudolf Christmas Special on TV as an annual Thanksgiving tradition.) So many aspects to this fat, jolly man seemed a little too good to be true for me.
This can be easily understood since I was raised Jewish. My family, my school, my friends—we were all Jewish. We had Passover, Hanukkah, Shabbat, and a bunch of other traditions and holidays. Santa Claus was not included. My world was split into two categories: Jewish/not Jewish. Us/them. Life revolved around home, Jewish school, and synagogue. Then, in fifth grade, my parents decided to send me to a public elementary school. A serious conversation was about to happen. This time Santa was included.
I was almost ready to leave for school and I remember my mother seating me on the living room couch, which was only done for serious family talks, so I knew some real stuff was about to go down. My mother began to ask me questions: “Was making new friends at school? How was everything going?” —the standard new school-type questions.
Then, “Are any of your friends excited about Santa?”
I was incredibly confused. Why did this fake man, liked by my friends, matter?
My parents had already told me he wasn’t real, that the parents bought the presents, so why was talking about so it important now?
I hesitantly responded, “Yeah, what about it?”
My parents shared a few nervous glances, and my mom continued to ask me if I knew what day it was.
That day at school just happened to be ‘Polar Express Day.’ For those who don’t know, it was essentially a free day for students to watch The Polar Express (a movie heavily focused on Santa) dressed in our comfortable PJs while eating and drinking our weight in cookies and hot chocolate. Every kid’s dream? Absolutely. My parents? An absolute nightmare.
At any moment, they worried, I could drop the truth bomb destroying the faith in Christmas magic enjoyed by my 10-year-old classmates’ My parents were not willing to take this risk. The request was simple: Pretty please, under NO circumstances was I to tell anyone in my class who truly believes in Santa, that he was, in fact, not real. I was perplexed by the idea of encouraging a lie, but agreed.
By the time I made it to school I had also begun to question whyfriends had not caught on yet.? Were all the kids my age dumb enough to believe this load of garbage? Preposterous. In the classroom waiting for The Polar Express to begin, my classmates were all talking about Santa. It was like Christmas magic overcame them, frantically debating with one another whether they made the ‘nice’ list, or were on the dreaded ‘naughty’ list. They giggled about what kind of cookies they were going to leave for Santa, and if they were going to stay up long enough to see him sneak in.
How were they all so comfortable with a stranger entering their house through the chimney, of all things? (We were all from Florida, so none of us had chimneys anyway, adding to the thick aura of confusion).I had so many questions, but I couldn’t ask them without spilling the beans about Santa. I questioned if I’d really be able to make it through the whole day without telling a single person the truth. As the movie began to start, I focused in on the animated falling snow and how it reminded me of sparkling little fairies.
Then, sitting there in the classroom in my best PJs, mid-sip in my hot chocolate, I experienced a shocking ten-year-old revelation. I believed—in the Tooth Fairy! The Tooth Fairy came (I don’t know how she got into the house) and left money for those discarded teeth. She put her hand under my pillow while my head was on it. Sleeping. Vulnerable! But that was OK with me. When I wrote her letters, she would write me back always encouraging me to brush my teeth. If I believed in the Tooth Fairy, how was that so different than my classmates believing in Santa Claus?
Both entered the house unannounced by some devious means, pocketed the cookies/teeth, left desired valuables, and moved on. Santa’s story revolved around Christmas joy with reindeer who had names, a sleigh, personality, a magnificent chimney entrance, and bicycles. The Tooth Fairy brought with her a mystical magic and carried two bags. One held shiny coins, the other shiny teeth. Now I understood why it was so important to not tell my friends.. I continued to watch The Polar Express and as I got into the story, I could see the Tooth Fairy wagging her little finger at me. “Say nothing,” she seemed to be cautioning.
It wasn’t, I realized, just myth about a guy in a funny red suit delivering gifts. It was about the spirit, magic, and joy of a season that used the character of Santa to help tell the story. And I certainly didn’t want to spoil the magic for anyone.
Ilana Segel is this Spring’s student intern at Hallard Press. A native of Tampa, she is a senior at Florida State University in Tallahassee majoring in English and minoring in Business and Communications.
At Hallard Press Ilana’s assignments include working on social media projects as well as writing for Hallard Press Gazette and Breakfast Serial. She expects to graduate at the end of April and will be applying to law school while also pursuing her writing career.