By C.L. Phillips
True story time. I was ten years old and confident Santa Claus did not exist. Everyone in the fifth grade knew that. I told my mother at Thanksgiving, "Only babies believe in Santa Claus."
At our house, Santa brought unwrapped gifts because as my mother would attest, "Santa doesn't have time to wrap all these presents and still make it around the world." Santa had other rules too. Only one present per child. Again, my mother, "Just exactly how big do you think his sleigh is?"
On Christmas Eve, after dinner, I carefully inspected the tree. Only wrapped presents. Confident Santa was a parental hoax played on naive children, I started monitoring everyone's movements, my mother, my father, and myself. We watched television in the den. As was my father's custom, he asked, "Would you get me a cup of coffee?" Gleefully I jumped up. An opportunity to inspect the tree.
The Christmas tree stood in the formal living room, brightly lit, carefully decorated, but no unwrapped presents. I skipped into the kitchen for the coffee and returned to the tree. No unwrapped presents. I marched back to the den and mentally noted both of my parents had not left the room. I would prove Santa Claus was a fake.
The three of us watched a show. My little beady eyes jumped back and forth between my parents and the door to the den. Nobody left the room. I lay on the floor across the doorway, ear to the floor, listening for vibrations. Not one sound. My parents chatted about Christmas dinner, and ignored my advanced surveillance.
At the end of the show, my father asked, "Would you please get me another cup?" I sprang into action. Another chance to inspect the tree. This time a huge box containing a junior chemistry set, somehow materialized from thin air. "Santa came."
I ran to the front door, it was locked from the inside. I threw it open. A light snow covered the walkway. No footsteps. Our neighbors on both sides were out of town visiting family. I slammed the door. My father said, "Shut that door. It's cold out there."
"How did Santa get in here?" We didn't have a fireplace. The backdoor opened to a locked garage. No footprints meant nobody came in through the front, and I kept watch in the den. Nobody left the room except ME. And I didn't do it.
"How did Santa get here? There is no Santa? What happened?" I wasn't going to celebrate Christmas until I got to the bottom of this. Somebody pulled a trick on me, and I wasn't going to let them get away with it. Steam poured out my ears.
My father pulled me close and looked into my eyes. "What do you believe happened?" His face was serious, all business.
Confused, not sure what to believe, I said, "I don't know. But there's no Santa."
He looked at the chemistry set, letting his eyes do the talking. "Who told you there was no Santa?"
The steam in my ears turned to tears. I fought the urge to stamp my foot. "Kids at school."
"What do you believe?"
In that moment, the facts were overwhelming. "Santa came to visit me."
My father gave me a big hug. "Always remember, you decide what you believe."
We opened our presents and celebrated as we always did. I went to school the following week and told this story to everyone. Each child tried to solve the mystery. "Your neighbors did it." Nope, they were gone. "The present was always there." No, I inspected every square inch of that tree. "Your mom or dad left the room when you weren't looking." No, I was lying across the doorway. Besides, I was the only person who left the room. "You did it." Absolutely not. I was trying to prove Santa didn't exist.
To this day, the mystery remains unsolved. Each time I ask my father about the incident, his eyes twinkle. "Remember what I told you. You decide what you believe."