I don't know why this has been the most difficult post for me to write in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - at least so far. I don't have many memories of Santa Claus as a child.
This I do remember: when I first found out that those presents under the tree were actually from my mother and not Kris Kringle himself. I was in Cub Scouts and it must have been about 1972. At a friend's house after school, where our meeting was, I had said to the group that "Santa was bringing me . . ." and they began to laugh. But one of them, who either felt bad or knew what it was like to find out that not-so-little nugget of truth, told them to stop and changed the subject. Well, I put 2 and 2 together and didn't get 5, I got 4.
Sure a loss of innocence, somewhat, but it was then that I really appreciated all those gifts. I knew we didn't have much money, so the fact that Mom was able to do as much as she did amazed me. I never told my little brother the "truth" either - I figured he had to find out on his own.
As I grew older, I learned more and more about the legend of Santa Claus and the connection with Saint Nicholas. And as I pursued my family's genealogy and history, I also learned that he was the patron saint of Amsterdam and New York, both places where my ancestors originated. And today, December 6th, is the feast day for Saint Nicholas and usually the day gifts are exchanged in most European countries.
When asked, Mom always said that she believed in Santa Claus, and now I understand what she meant. She believed in the concept of what Santa stood for and wanted to keep that idea alive. She also knew that Santa brought amazing gifts to all, even her.
You see, I arrived into this world on December 25th. And she said that I was the greatest gift she ever received.
[Author's note: I tried so hard to keep my tie-in with Christmas a secret until the post of December 24 - Christmas Eve. But my life has always been so entwined with the holiday that it was almost impossible for me to even hold out these past six days!]
Photo: Stories of Saint Nicholas of Bari, ca. 1437, by Fra Angelico, from the Vatican Museums. This panel is part of a tryptich depicting life events of Saint Nicholas. Here you can see his birth (left), his vocation (center), and his gift to the three girls (right).