One of my favorite Christmas memories occurred when I was 4 years old. It was late Christmas Eve and I was in bed asleep when my dad came in and woke me up. I was frustrated at first because I believed the fastest way to get to Christmas was to go to sleep as soon as you could.

"Do you hear that?" he asked. I listened, then shook my head. A few moments later, I started to hear bells ringing. "Is Santa here?!" I asked my dad who smiled and nodded.

"Look out your window." My blinds were closed but I could still see a red light glowing outside. "Rudolph is here! He's outside my window!" I exclaimed.

(CHUCK TODD / BAY AREA NEWS GROUP)

"Yes he is, but don't look. We're not supposed to know that they're here." My dad tucked me back into bed and left, but I couldn't fall asleep because I was so excited. I had seen Rudolph's glowing nose! I had heard Santa's sleigh bells!

I later learned that "Rudolph's nose" was really just a flash light with red tissue paper over it that my mom was holding outside my window. And the bells weren't on Santa's sleigh, but were being shaken by her as well. It didn't matter that I knew the truth, though. Even now I look back fondly on the memory and love that my parents did that for me. They went full out with the Santa charade. Every year they'd crumble up the cookies I had made for him and respond to my letters to Santa using their left hand so that I wouldn't recognize their handwriting. When I started leaving carrots for the reindeer, my parents would cut them up at sprinkle them on the grass and say that the reindeers were messy eaters. They bought separate wrapping paper that all my gifts from Santa were wrapped in and told me that the Santas at the mall were Santa's helpers because he was too busy making my gifts to be there.

These little details made my Christmas that much more special. Every year I looked forward to seeing what Santa had written in reply to my letter to him, and it made me feel so special that he had responded and gotten me exactly what I wanted.

It took me quite a while to let go of the Santa Claus fantasy. It wasn't until I was in 7th grade that I finally realized Santa wasn't real. The realization was bittersweet. On the one hand I was disappointed that something I believed so strongly in didn't exist. But on the other hand, I felt so lucky that my parents went so full out with the story.

I never considered it my parents lying to me; it was just a wonderful childhood memory. I look back now and see the hints my parents were trying to drop about the authenticity of Santa. They started using the same wrapping paper they used on all the gifts I got from Santa and writing the gift cards in their own handwriting. They said Santa didn't have time to wrap all the gifts at his workshop, so they were helping him by letting him use our wrapping paper and pre-writing the gift tags. They started to stop wanting to make Santa special cookies, and one year we skipped the tradition all together.

My parents even told me that Santa had a special key to unlock every house in the world in case he couldn't fit down the chimney, which is why there was frosting on the door handle. I was oblivious to the lie they told and saw it as the moment I learned what a skeleton key was.

I think they were just worried that I would be ridiculed by other kids because of my long-held belief in Santa. Now my parents don't have to go to the extra effort to keep me believing, and they're probably relieved. But I liked believing in Santa Claus and it made Christmas a special time. Santa will always be a special part of my life.

The Life in Perspective board is made up of teens who write for the features sections. Sara Zollner attends Castro Valley High School. Reach her at lip@bayareanewsgroup.com