Until I became a Unitarian Universalist, I thought I was a pretty weird duck. Well, if we are being honest, I am a pretty weird duck, but you know, I've found out there are others. It seems less weird when you have company.
A big "for instance" always comes up this time of year when moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas and various and sundry others who think they need to weigh in on our parenting choices all begin the debate about,"Is Santa a cherished holiday rite of childhood, or a ridiculous lie that destroys children's trust in their parents?" And I struggle with not getting snarky, because, while I'm pretty much an atheist (humanist, I suppose, but I see that title as issue avoidance) I firmly believe in Santa Claus. Confused? But SANTA CLAUS, you must be thinking, "C'mon Ei that one is easy to prove. There is a paper trail that leads directly back to your parents, right?" But you are wrong.
I was really late in figuring it out as a kid, I think maybe 12. I like to think that this was not because I was stupid so much as hopeful. And my discovery was rather hurtful because I was a temperamental kid (much like an eight year old who sleeps at my house) and my mom was rather blunt in her delivery...and it all kind of sucked. The end result was, "Hey kid, Christmas magic is over. Welcome to adulthood." It ruined my holidays for several years to come. Everything about the holiday took on a hollowness. Decorating the tree wasn't as much fun, baking cookies, buying gifts - it was like someone took a vacuum to the season and sucked all the color out of it. My favorite holiday in my teens was sitting with my grandmother in the nursing home, listening to her and my mom tell stories about days when I didn't even exist.
Not blaming the event in question, perhaps it was just a theme in my life, but life in general seemed to go that direction in my teens and early adulthood. By the time I was 20 it was pretty much at critical mass. I don't remember anyone talking much about clinical depression at that time, but I know I had it (still do) and this added with the daily trials and trauma of being 20 and being a college student with poor social skills were taking its toll. The many friends I'd made my freshman year were all busy with new mini-soap operas and I was just too sad to get involved. I couldn't make ends meet and I was lonely. I lived in a trailer by myself surrounded by other college students whose lives seemed to be non-stop dating and parties. I became addicted to MTV and skipping class. I took very poor care of myself (I won't even go into the food that I ate at this time...if you've lived through college, you probably have a story or two yourself). I had an old boyfriend show up at my doorstep one evening and he spent the night...just long enough to give me and STD and to crush my self esteem into the ugly shag carpet.
As we rolled around to finals in December, I was hanging by a thread. I woke up the morning before my final in history (that I knew I would fail) and tried to decide if I would go in and face the music or kill myself. Honestly. I laid there trying to decide which would be the most painful, and which embarrassment would be worse for my family, the high school honor student, Board of Trustees Scholarship recipient flunking out of college, or just killing herself because she was so pathetic?
I don't know why exactly but I decided to take the test. Maybe to give myself proof that the other option was the best choice. Maybe because I was afraid that if there WAS an afterlife, I'd have to witness how little anyone cared about my life. But I got dressed, put my hair in a ponytail and went out to start my car. I remember it was really snowy and I was afraid it wouldn't start. But it did. Once it did start I reached for my cigarettes and realized I'd left them in the house, so I quickly pulled the keys out of the ignition and ran inside to get them.
When I climbed back into the car I reached to push the lighter in as I started the car and knocked something to the floor, I peered at it. It was a little blue foil wrapped Christmas candy, with a picture of Santa stamped on the front. Someone had slipped in my car and set it there where I would find it when I'd run in the house. It wasn't frozen, so I knew it had only been there moments. I looked all around but could see no one. My neighbors all seemed to be gone. I couldn't even think of a person in the world who might have wanted to do something nice for me, much less have done it in secret.
I didn't take my history exam that day, nor did I kill myself (well, okay, duh). I did sit holding that little piece of chocolate for about three hours, crying. It became the day I call upon when I think about Christmas, and very much so Santa, who undoubtedly delivered that chocolate to me, via traditional Santa magic, which is moving hearts with kindness and love. Santa saved my life that day, probably. And if he didn't, he certainly saved my faith in mankind.
My kids know Santa much the way I knew him. And one day I hope I can help them find the colors of the TRUE Santa story in a much gentler way than I found them. But I'm so glad he's there and I'm so glad to share him with my children.