How Santa Claus Prepped Me for Writing Fantasy

It’s Christmas here in Pittsburgh, and the snow kept pelting down and the wind kept howling through the night to give us a lovely white Christmas. I couldn’t be happier. The wind got me thinking about a Christmas morning when I was little.

(And this is where I say, if you happen to be below the age of 10, best not to read further. Give it a couple more years, then come on back.)

There was one Christmas morning when I told my parents I had awakened in the middle of the night and was SURE, absolutely sure, I’d heard Santa’s sleigh on the roof the night before. My mom smiled and said, “Really?” I said I’d heard tapping and scrapping on the roof over my bedroom.

Yes, I caught the look she exchanged with my father. Yes, the tapping I heard was probably just the wind or a branch. But I was so invested in the myth of Santa Claus that I skated right over those other things.

Unlike a lot of kids, I really held onto the idea of a jolly old guy tooling around in his magical sled and squeezing down one chimney after another with toys. The concept seemed perfectly natural to me. I didn’t even believe my friends when they tried to disavow me of the notion of a benevolent little man with magical powers. I was totally invested in Santa Claus.

It’s probably because my parents were so good at hiding the gifts and leaving thank you notes for the cookies. Other kids I knew stumbled upon the gift closet or walked in on their parents wrapping the gifts. But not in my house. My parents were totally dedicated to the charade.

Each year, my brother and I would put our Christmas lists on the fridge (they sometimes had to be stapled together, because there were so many pages). At some point, the “elves” would come by to pick them up and leave a candy cane in the list’s place. We even yearly letters from “Santa”, complete with tiny hoof prints.

When I found out Santa wasn’t real (or the Easter Bunny), frankly I was crushed. I think most kids are, but I feel like I took an unusual amount of time to get past it for a kid of that age. I think it’s the loss of the fantasy.

To this day, I have an unopened letter in a box somewhere that my mother gave to me from the real sender of the Santa letters, after I was told Santa wasn’t real. I think I know who it was (not her, the handwriting wasn’t the same), but it was the note on the outside of the envelope that got me.

It said that the letter was to be delivered when I was “ready”. It was supposed to be an explanation of why the sender wrote the letters and pretended to be Santa for me.

I could never bring myself to read it.

I know why they wrote the letters. They were like me, with a need to believe in fantasy. They were helping to write that fantasy for a little kid like I write fantasies for adults now. I harbor no ill will. They did a great job and helped me believe something fantastical was real.

I love them for that. Everyone needs to believe in magic at some point in their lives.