When I was a little girl (actually, scratch that, from when I was a little girl until age 18), I attended a private school that was not religiously affiliated but rather a non-denominational school that welcomed children of all faiths and backgrounds.
I was exposed to several different types of cultures and traditions as a result, and I learned early on that while Christmas was the highlight of my year, many of my classmates looked forward to receiving a gift on each night of Hanukkah, or celebrated Kwanzaa or Ramadan with their families. During our school concerts, we always sang Christmas and Hanukkah songs, as well as old standards like Winter Wonderland.
However, while my classmates may have celebrated during the months of November and December differently than I did, Christmas — both the religious and secular aspects — remained at home. My parents love Christmas, and they pulled out all of the stops to make sure I had the best Christmas they could possibly give to me.
Mentions of Santa Claus “watching” began right after Thanksgiving, the North Pole was a real place as far as my parents were concerned and my grandmother even got in on the act by sending me a “Christmas Report Card” that came “From Santa. It was designed to keep track of all of my good deeds and chores from December 1 through 24.
And now, without further ado… the story I am about to tell is a true story from my childhood, and the background I’ve just provided you with is meant to show a bit of context. While I can’t certify that the dialogue is 100% accurate, I think you’ll get the picture.
It started when my parents were more than saddened when I came home from school at only age five with the following statement:
“Mom, Dad…at lunch today, the kids told me that Santa isn’t real.”
Of course, I’d defended Jolly Old Saint Nick at the lunch table, with the fervor that only a kindergartener can. But I can distinctly remember the look on one girl’s face (we’ll call her Lily to protect her identity) as she said…”Mary Grace, you know Santa is really your parents, right?”
Tears came to my eyes as I walked away from the lunch table, distraught. Was Lily right? Had it been Mom and Dad all along?
To get back to my parents: in later years, they blamed the parents of the children who did not promote belief in Santa Claus for their failing to teach their kids to keep their mouths shut about “The Secret” of Santa’s true identity.
“I believed in Santa Claus until I was eleven!” my mom exclaimed.
But for the time being, my parents weren’t going to go down without a fight. They weren’t about to reveal “The Secret” — and they were well aware of the fact that I’d buy their story much more than I’d buy Lily’s Lunch Table Tabloids.
“Mary Grace, we know Santa is real,” my dad said. “And you know what? We’re going to prove it.”
“How?” I asked, eyes wide, already enthralled with the idea.
“We’re going to catch him on tape!” my dad cried in excitement.
My mom, having no prior knowledge of my dad’s plan to that point, played along like a champ. “Yes, we are!” she echoed.
“How?” I asked again.
“We’re going to set up the video camera in the living room by the Christmas tree,” my dad explained, his eyes twinkling.
I started to have my doubts. “How will the camera know when Santa walks in?” I asked.
My dad didn’t miss a beat. “The camera is floor activated,” he replied, my mom nodding vociferously in agreement.
Remembering that we didn’t have a fireplace, my doubts continued. “I don’t even know how Santa gets into the house,” I said. “How does he get out of the chimney?”
“The chimney goes to the basement,” my mom explained. “Santa will just come upstairs that way.”
I somehow took in all of this seemingly vital information and bought the story. I cannot remember exactly what I reported back to Lily at school the next day, but it couldn’t have been that important. We were going to catch Santa Claus in the act!
And on Christmas morning, after we opened all of the gifts and I confirmed that Santa’s cookies and milk were consumed to my satisfaction, my parents and I gathered around the TV and VCR to watch the evidence.
The video started with just a still shot of our Christmas tree and then…I heard the tinkle of the bell that hung on our basement door. A few footsteps and then…there he was! As the song says…”Cap on head, suit that’s red, special night, beard that’s white…Must be Santa!”
“He was here!” I cried. I could not contain my jubilation as I watched. “Santa Claus” waved to the camera, held his big belly and gave a hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho!” Before I knew it, he was pulling the presents I’d just opened out of the giant sack he’d lugged into the living room. As if on cue, he moved over to the milk mug and plate of cookies, and ate and drank with fervor, enjoying every bite and sip. With one more wave to the camera, he was gone…and I heard the tinkle of the bell on the basement door once again.
Approximately three years and two more “Santa Cam” experiences later, I point blank asked my mom if the Tooth Fairy was real, which led to a discussion of both the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. I found out the true identities of all three in one night. While sad, I had many questions…like, how did they catch Santa Claus on film if they’re Santa Claus?
As it turned out, my parents pulled out all of the stops more than they had already. They’d purchased a premium Santa suit, wig and beard set (as my dad has no facial hair to speak of). I then realized that my dad was skinny and the “Santa” who appeared on tape wasn’t. My mom, smart enough to realize I’d pick up on the weight difference, had stuffed the pants of the suit with pillows. Of course, the “floor activated camera” story was one they’d made up on the fly — my mom was “Santa’s” camerawoman the whole time.
After finding out all of the production secrets, I asked my parents to set up the “Santa Cam” just one more time — and, of course, they were more than happy to oblige.