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Jon Mark Beilue column - Posted November 24, 2017 noon
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Artwork by Andy Chase Cundiff

The hard truth about Santa can be liberating

Spoiler alert: The following paragraphs will reveal the true identity of Santa Claus. Parental discretion is advised. Of course, if your kid is old enough to read Amarillo Magazine and believes some old white dude with flying reindeer leaves the North Pole and distributes toys all over the world in eight hours, an examination of your parenting skills is advised.

My last Christmas of gullibility was rather early, like 5 years old. It involved an ugly incident, too, at my grandparents’ in Dumas.

We cousins had put a nice piece of cake and some milk on the kitchen table for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. As we were drifting off to sleep around 11 p.m. or so on pallets in the den, the adjacent kitchen light flipped on. Pap-paw was home from his shift work at the Shamrock plant.

What’s he doing? He’s sitting at the table. Is he eating Santa’s cake? He’s eating Santa’s cake! We went hollering into the kitchen about the time Mam-maw entered in her nightgown and gave Pap-paw the what-for. Poor Pap-paw, cheeks full of strawberry cake, sat there and took one for the team.

I found out the cold hard truth the next year, in 1964, living in Lubbock at the time at 1822 E. Brown St. It was my earliest indicator of journalistic tendencies – skepticism and questioning authority.

A couple of things didn’t pass the smell test: How could Santa, even accounting for four time zones in the U.S., make it to every single house in the world in one night? It would take him at least an hour to get to every house on our block.

Secondly, that bag of his. Granted, it was a big bag of toys, but that’s supposed to hold toys for every kid in the world? Come on. Even if I only got half of what I asked, that would fill at least a quarter of that bag. This would require some sort of miracle, along the lines of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes.

I confronted my mother, thinking maybe she could explain away the cock and bull. But, like ripping a Band-Aid right off, she flat out told me the gut-wrenching truth. And with this stern warning: “But don’t you tell your friends!”

My 6-year-old brain was trying to soak it in. We kids the world over have played the fool all this time. It was an international scam, what with the weatherman’s radar showing Santa and the reindeer, the “hoof prints” out in the snow, the Santa letters that went to the dumpster.

What could a fella believe in anymore?

I had a follow-up question: How would knowing the truth affect my Christmas Eve toy inventory now and in the future, or words to that effect? When told there would be no change, I was cool with it. Santa, your parents, whatever.

It made future Christmas Eves a bit more manageable. My exasperated dad didn’t have to bite his tongue around midnight with the “easy follow” steps to completely construct a three-story miniature car garage. My mother didn’t have to keep her voice down when Santa brought a whimpering dachshund puppy when I was 8:

“Greg, she’s peeing on the carpet again!”

I never had The Talk with our boys, either on the birds and the bees or Santa and the elves. They just learned by osmosis.

Like riding a bike with no training wheels, jumping off the diving board into the deep end, and seeing a PG-13 movie for the first time, learning the hard truth about St. Nick is a major step into manhood.

In a way it’s liberating – “the truth shall set you free!” In a way, it puts the mind at ease, not worrying how a little puppy can breathe in that bag with all those toys in frigid cold.

I thought I had a brilliant idea one year. Our neighbors had a Santa Claus suit from a party. We borrowed it Christmas Eve, and I had Sandy dress up in it and put gifts under the tree late that night. I got the Polaroid Instamatic out and caught Santa in the act.

“Ahh-ha! Caught you!” When I showed our young boys the evidence the next morning, I expected open-mouthed amazement, like seeing Big Foot sitting at a picnic table. Instead, they barely gave the photo a glance as they shot pell-mell to the tree.

It was at that point it confirmed what I had felt some 30 or more years before – for little guys, it’s not so much the giver of the gifts as the gifts themselves.

by Jon Mark Beilue

Jon Mark Beilue is an award-winning columnist for AGN Media. He can be reached at jon.beilue@amarillo.com or (806) 345-3318.
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