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Believing in Santa Claus

Published: 
Monday, December 25, 2017

I believe Santa Claus had stopped coming to my house by the time we moved to Diamond Vale. I turned eight here.

He’s such a funny type. Most of the years that he comes with a bang, children just don’t remember. Our strongest memories are of the years just before his last one, the ones filled with the excitement of doubt.

Before it all fell apart with age.

Before my grandmother was buried on Christmas Eve. Before we stopped spending Christmases at home. So it would be harder for my mother to croak I’ll Have A Blue Christmas Without You on Old Year’s

Night, crying into her champagne. Siparia, Martinique, Barbados, I remember. Grenada. Where I learned my first powerful lesson about injustice. At that orphanage party, remember. Down the hill from Auntie Shirley’s. Where they took a toy away from one of the residents, one my sister and I had also been given. Because I was raised to complain that mine was broken.

Santa’s last year may have been that same one my mother covered a guava branch with the itchy fiberglass we called angel hair, through which the coloured lights glowed hazily, old strings of screw-in bulbs wound alongside tiny new ones that blinked different ways, bouncing off the poisonous lead-foil tinsel and the rattling plastic ornaments mixed in with the remaining glass bulbs with the spring hangers we kept packed in cottonwool. The ones that so spellbound me as a toddler. I’d wobble up to the tree, they say, when no one noticed, reach out to hold one’s shininess reflecting the flashes. Surprise my stealth, and I’d grab its beauty, tug it to the ground.

Talking the week before Christmas, John urged yet again: Go see Coco. The rave-reviewed Pixar film has been a powerful tool for the Filipino colleague from my youth in raising five-and-a-half-year-old Andrés with Mickey. It’s the film’s treatment of El Día de Muertos, with its ofrendas (ritual gifts our ancestors need, like visas, to cross borders into this world) to which he turned last week.

And that was how, John said, he now believes in Santa Claus.

Santa hasn’t visited Andrés before. They never really thought it through, but John figured Santa atheism was a way to teach scepticism, about faith diversity, to resist groupthink: Everyone else might believe that, but we don’t. Besides, what good was hoodwinking a brown boy that a white man drops down chimneys around the world at midnight to give things to kids like him.

But now John faced a harder lesson. Carol had been in Andrés’s life for a long time. She’d opened a nonprofit nursery school 35 years ago so poor children could have access to good daycare. Her granddaughter, who lived with her, has been his main babysitter. Like Granny Gladys, Carol’s cancer metastasised rapidly. When she grew seriously ill, she’d “gone away.”

They delayed telling him she wasn’t coming back. But then he was going to the house she lived in. And he asked to take her flowers.

“Where is she?”

“The doctors couldn’t help her,” they offered. “Then she should see another one,” he countered. They suggested he tug on his “Invisible String,” the Patrice Karst concept they’d used before to help him manage separation and loneliness.

Then they said she’d gone to the spirit world: that’s where she was.

“How do you know?”

“Because if you believe it, it’s true.”

“But I don’t believe in the spirit world,” Andrés mourned. “Just like you don’t believe in Santa Claus.”

And so they both agreed to believe.

Maybe that’s all that everything in life is about: Governance. Self-worth. Social change. Christmas. Children. Making others believe in something.

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