Believing: It’s the gift of the season

Posted Dec. 19, 2008, at 4:40 p.m.

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.” So said one of the spectral messengers in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

The ghost who entertained Ebenezer Scrooge with visions of holiday merriment also reminded Scrooge of a great disappointment that had soured his life.

We all have our own Ghosts of Christmas Past. For me, by far the most haunting of such phantoms materializes in memories of the demon who tried to destroy Santa for me. She did it in seven searing words: “There’s no such thing as Santa Claus.”

For some of us, hearing those words for the first time ranks in emotional impact along with the assassinations of presidents, the destruction of a space shuttle, terrorist attacks, and other events that shattered the order of things along with one’s sense of well-being.

Just as I can remember exactly where I was when each of those events occurred, I can recall precisely — down to the jacket and mittens I was wearing, the crack in the sidewalk upon which I stood, and the weather conditions — the place where a girl called Donna delivered the verbal blow that smashed my visions of Santa Claus to smithereens.

It was just a few days before the reindeer were slated to arrive on my roof. All I could think of was what to do about Rudolph’s carrot. If there actually was no Santa, should I still scrape a snack for his red-nosed pal?

In fact, I was pretty red-nosed myself as I failed at fighting back tears. And I was florid-faced with rage, too. I knew, I just knew, I would never forgive Donna. Not for the rest of my life. Not in a million years.

I was right. I have never, ever forgiven the scoundrel who shed doubt on Santa. Forgiveness eluded me even when I learned Donna had suffered problems too big for a 5-year-old to handle, and when I knew her Santa-busting was most likely a way of feeling in control of something. As I began to write this piece, I sought to send Donna a huge “Bah! Humbug!” I wished her coal in her stocking. But then something changed — when I wished that coal would be delivered to her by none other than jolly old Saint Nick.

You see, after all these years, I still wish Santa would step into Donna’s life and prove her utterly and completely wrong. After all, on many occasions he has done exactly that for me. Who but Santa would have delivered a kitten to a home where Mom said she would never like to house a pet? What about the year when I was 40 years old — not even a child but a suddenly single mother with few funds to buy presents for my three daughters? Santa himself signed three toy-shop gift certificates that arrived in my mailbox one day. What about the insight that arrived as I worked on writing this article?

It just has to be Santa who delivered this wrap-up: It is time for forgiveness and belief. I wish you a Merry Christmas, Donna. And a few sooty footprints on your carpet, to boot.

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