It's a couple of days before Christmas and all through the Bay Area, kids are wide-eyed and waiting with the usual holiday hysteria. Will Santa come through? Is he real? How do we know?
Just in case of any doubt, some parents go gung ho-ho-ho.
They supplement Santa's magic with practical props. Some nibble on cookies or leave trails of gumdrops. Some lift ladders to rooftops to make "sleigh landing" noise. Some stay up to all hours assembling complicated toys.
One mom, Harsha Shah, of San Jose, always kept the fantasy going, with long letters from Santa that made a good showing. She'd sift talcum-powder "snow" boot prints by the fireplace with care, to prove that the big guy had really been there. This went on for years, she said, yet she still always felt, that it was just pretty lucky her three kids "didn't understand why the footprints wouldn't melt."
For Steve Brown's children in Oakley, he went the "ash" shoe-print/fireplace route. "It was many years before one of them noticed that Dad and Santa wore the same size boots."
Fresh hay scattered on the roof next to the chimney leading to the front door, kept Brad Piatt, of Moraga's, three boys pining for more. He'd use "two knuckles to imprint the shag carpet with deer prints" back then. The family kept up the ruse 'til the boys were at least 10. Reindeer in the house? Oh, Brad, say it ain't true. "We're an equal-opportunity household," he said. "Animals, too."
Tricks of St. Nick
Sometimes convenient "mishaps" have helped Santa out, causing parents to send children scattering about. This frees up adults to skulk and to plot and provides great family stories to cherish a lot.
The big electric coffee pot Mary Jenevein's folks often used, would each Christmas Eve -- without fail -- just happen to "blow a fuse." Their whole Oakland hills house would go suddenly dark, Jenevein said, and she and her sister would be hustled upstairs to bed. Lots of fussing would ensue, allegedly with flashlights and fuses. But it really was all just a series of grown-up ruses.
"When the lights came back on," she said, "Santa had come with our presents!" To them, the whole fuse-fueled fiasco actually made absolute sense.
Even Jennifer Wilde, of Alameda, never questioned her sweet Nana, who at each Midnight Mass would "forget" her purse and run home to help Santa. "By the time we got home, all the gifts were out." It was quite a few years before Wilde figured it out. Now she does the same for her 10-year-old son, who still expects St. Nick to provide all the fun.
Out with the doubt
Rich Morse, of San Ramon, and his wife were really quite clever, when they found their 7-year-old daughter, Jessica, had written Santa a serious letter. They steamed it open and were dismayed to find out that it seemed their little girl was starting to doubt. She had written to Santa, asking if he were real. If he sent back a photo, then that might seal the deal.
Luckily, the Morses had a friend who was a professional clown, and also played Santa Claus coming to town. They asked him to send a publicity shot of himself, and they placed it next to nibbled-on cookies for the Jolly Old Elf.
"When I got that picture of him, I was blown away," said Jessica Nolen-Morse, now 25 and a master's student at Oregon State today. She said the photo helped her faith fully renew, and kept the fun going for another year or two.
Alas, even the best efforts don't always do the trick. When Frances Beaulieu's daughter was 6, kids at school claimed there was really no St. Nick. So Beaulieu explained Santa was all about love and joy, and that Daddy and Mother were indeed the ones who delivered the toys.
"She immediately burst into tears," Beaulieu, of San Leandro, recalled, "and declared I was Mrs. Meany," just the worst mom of all. Yet the sadness wore off and a family tradition came to be. From then on, a gift from "Mrs. Meany" always lay 'neath the tree.
So on Mamas, on Papas and even Aunt Lous. All your efforts have triumphed, though your kids now know it's you. The spirit of Christmas will live on and thrive, as long as parents are childlike -- they'll keep Santa alive.