Confessions of a Diehard Santa Believer

For me, this time of year is less about the "now" and more about the "then."

I'm not a card-carrying member of any one religious group at this point in my life, but as a kid, I was raised Episcopalian. Christmas figured prominently throughout my childhood, which spanned the 1970s. It held meaning for this diehard believer in Santa and all things make-believe, and for that I'm grateful. Below, snapshots from the memory vault, which inevitably resurface every year in the days leading up to Christmas.

That's me on the left, Tim in the middle, and John, dressed in plaid finery, with Santa. (Family photo)

I remember...waiting in anticipation to decorate the tree, an event that followed my father's cursing out on the front porch while trying to jam the tree into the stand. My parents would play Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis records on the stereo while we kids would connect hooks to ornaments and find vacant spaces on tree boughs. One year, Dad went to Sears and bought "bubble lights," which he explained were all the rage when he was growing up in the '50s.

I remember... "Trudy Overnighters," an exotic-sounding meringue chocolate chip cookie that my mother would only make at Christmas. In fact, it might have been the only cookie my mother ever made, and it crumbled in your mouth like sawdust.

I remember...for the authentic Christmas cookie experience, I would get carted over to Aunt Beulah's house, where she'd pull out her binder-style Good Housekeeping picture cookbooks and I'd flip through the pages in wonder. I recall cut-out sugar cookies that I helped decorate with colored jimmies and sprinkles. She had a voice that a kid loved -- sweet in a Donna Reed sort of way -- and she called me "Kimberly" or "Love."

I remember...the year when I opened the door to a room on the third floor of our house that was deemed "off-limits" in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The Goody Two-Shoes in me knew that what I was doing was wrong, but my biggest mistake was telling my big-mouth brother that I had just spotted, no, it couldn't be -- a real-life bubble gum machine! My mother, who heard the commotion upstairs, demanded to know if we were guilty of trespassing and I lied and said, "No." She said, "You know, if you're lying, your eyes will turn black like coal and Santa will know and take back all of the presents."

Traumatized by the possibility that this would in fact be the year without a Santa Claus, I immediately confessed and offered a teary apology. On Christmas morning, there she was -- the bubble gum machine, standing about three feet tall -- and it took pennies! We thought we were the luckiest kids in the world.

I remember the personal home visits we received from Santa Claus, played by my grandmother Betty Fite (see picture above). Never mind that she was shorter than Santa at the department store, and didn't utter a single word during her visit. And Santa smoked a pipe! What was up with that? I'd give anything to be this gullible again.

I remember...reading "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus, " the famous editorial published in the New York Sun in l897 in response to a letter written by eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon. Oh how I could relate to Virginia and her quest for the truth. Like her, I had spunk at an early age, wanting to know things about the world and demanding to know the answers from adults in positions of power. (I wrote to President Nixon asking about the 1973 energy crisis.)

I remember...the very moment when I found my unsent letter to Santa Claus in one of my father's bags after the Christmas of 1976. I was 10 years old. I guess he figured the jig was up, and it was time to tell me the harsh truth. I cried inconsolably. I remember asking him about "Yes, Virginia" and argued that none of this made sense. As a peace offering, my father offered to take the whole family to my favorite pizza place for dinner, but all I did was sulk in the corner of the booth.

I remember...biting right into a candy cane, whereas my brother, John, would suck on it until the tip was as sharp as an ice pick and poke his sister and baby brother.

Now, it's your turn. Share your winter holiday memories. The funnier the better. Make me laugh.

By Kim ODonnel |  December 20, 2006; 10:21 AM ET Winter Holidays
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I was also a die-ahrd believer, and cried and cried when I found out (About 10 as well).

I still believe in the magic of Santa - I love this time of year.

Posted by: MFD | December 20, 2006 11:06 AM

When I was little we lived in a house with second-floor bedrooms. There was a door at the bottom of the stairs leading into the living room. It was our tradition for my father to do downstairs first and he'd light the Christmas tree, then we kids would come downstairs to the lighted tree and toys and gifts spread out in the living room. It was all so magical sometimes I cried on Christmas morning from the sheer beauty of it.

My parents would store our gifts and toys in my grandparents' bedroom. They lived a few miles away. After we went to bed on Christmas Eve, Dad would go pick up the toys and set them out. One year my sister got a music box. Somehow one night before Christmas the lid of the music box slid off during the night. Granddad woke up in the night hearing angelic tinkly music box music. He said it scared him to death. He thought he had died and was hearing angels playing music!

Posted by: Southern Maryland | December 20, 2006 11:26 AM

I remember... my mom spending hours painstakingly stringing popcorn and cranberries on heavy-duty thread with a sharp needle to make garlands, then carefully and artfully arranging them on our Christmas tree... only to have my sister and I (ages 4 and 7) creep down in the night and nibble all the popcorn off the strings, about halfway up the tree (which was as high as we could reach at the time, we were short!). I thought for sure I'd get coal from Santa that year.

Posted by: Divine Ms. K | December 20, 2006 11:49 AM

All the way into our twenties, my brother and I would go downstairs to collect our stockings at the fireplace, and then return upstairs to climb onto Mom and Dad's bed to open the small gifts. Then we'd descend, as a family, to debate whether or not to open gifts or to make/eat breakfast first. Of course, as we got older, we saved the gifts for last.

The Christmas that I brought my fiance home was also the Christmas that my Mom took down every one of my tree ornaments and packed them in a box the day that we were leaving - for my Christmas tree the next year as a married woman. I cried off and on the entire way home to PA, knowing that my ornaments wouldn't be on my parents' tree, but I love having my ornaments for our tree, and have started buying an ornament a year for each of our kids.

On a lighter note, a preciously funny family moment from the early 80s was when my Mom found that my brother had replaced the baby Jesus from the nativity scene with his Yoda figurine (after "Empire" came out). She laughed until she cried, her mother (my grandmother) was scandalized, and Mom carefully packed Yoda away to be a part of our family's nativity scene from then on. In fact, I'm sure that he's in the creche again this year.

Happy Holidays, Kim! Thank you for your chats and your blog, and here's to the New Year and the great things that are to come!

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | December 20, 2006 12:58 PM

When we were about six, my twin sister and I found the left-over panda bear wrapping paper Santa had used to wrap our gifts in my mother's sewing room. We questioned mom, and she said Santa had left the extra for her, but we knew the gig was up.

Posted by: KHo | December 20, 2006 1:27 PM


Posted by: MARY SUSAN | December 20, 2006 1:51 PM

My mother is no great cook--I grew up on a steady diet of Hamburger Helper, Kraft Mac&Cheese, and McCormick's seasoning packets, and to this day, she admits she doesn't really like cooking. But, my goodness, did she know how to bake cookies! Every Christmas, she baked dozens and dozens of cookies--Russian teacakes, spritz, chocolate chip, gingerbread men, oatmeal--and put them in big tupperware containers in the freezer. A day or two before Christmas, they'd come out of the freezer and would sit on the kitchen countertop, and my brother, father and I would have a non-stop cookie eating extravaganza for days.

She managed to do this every year, even though she was a neonatal ICU nurse and worked nights. In fact, my memories of Christmas are of waiting for her to come home from the night shift on Christmas morning. My brother and I were forbidden to come downstairs until Mom got home from work. We would sit on the bend of the stairs where we could see the front door and wait for her. As soon as she opened the door, we were down the stairs and into the living room, rooting around under the tree.

Posted by: Angie | December 20, 2006 2:27 PM

Mary Susan: I plan to finish baking tonight, and maybe tomorrow night. When I do my Christmas baking I load the CD player with holiday music, crank it up loud, and sing along (I live alone) as I sift, mix, stir, beat, and bake. I love it. Baking is good therapy and with the added boost of music it's so much fun. More fun is sampling the goods just to make sure they came out OK, even though I've been using these recipes for years.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | December 20, 2006 2:46 PM

We always went to mass on Christmas Day. One year we kids had gotten up so early that we actually made it to the 6 AM mass. My poor father, he managed a retail store so it was his busiest time of year and Christmas was his first day off since Thanksgiving.

Posted by: snowbound | December 20, 2006 4:27 PM

I am the Trudy of the infamous "Trudy Overnighters". sawdust,eh? You haven't tasted mine!
Your mom and I played bridge together for many years and are still in touch. She is the most creative woman I nice to see you following in her footsteps. (in your own way, of course!)

Posted by: Trudy from Florida | December 20, 2006 5:36 PM


Posted by: MARY SUSAN | December 20, 2006 7:34 PM

My parents' tradition (handed down from my Dad's family) was that Santa decorated the tree on Christmas eve. We'd "help" my Dad put the tree in the stand before going to bed, then my parents would stay up all night decorating it for us. I don't remember exactly when I learned the "truth," but we still put up our tree on Christmas eve.

Posted by: Christine | December 21, 2006 2:36 PM

Kid down the block blew the whole Santa thing for me when I was in kindergarden (she was in sixth grade). I thought knowing was the coolest thing ever, although the other kids never believed me.

Posted by: Rita | December 21, 2006 5:41 PM

any chance you can post the trudy overnighter's recipe for all to see? i'm very curious!!

Posted by: fredellen | January 6, 2007 11:13 AM

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