Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Oh the holy lies of Christmas

Have I always been a cynic? I guess. I don't know if you actually become a cynic or if you're born one, but by the time I was, say, seven, I was already a little bit cynical and learning "the truth about Santa" didn't help.
Before I start my story about Santa I'm going to make a brief summary of what a typical Christmas was like in my household: we're in Argentina, so it's summer in December here. Unlike what some people think, we don't change the date of Christmas so it'll fit the right weather, we just have a hot Christmas. It's not really that big of a deal, it can be quite fun if you make it work. Because it is so hot at that time of the year, we celebrate Christmas Eve more than the actual Christmas day. We have a late dinner (that is around 10 pm) and we wait up until midnight, which is when we open presents, then we have a toast and stay up pretty much all night and on the 25th we just get together to eat leftovers and have a pool day. It's definitely different, but it's not bad, it's certainly traditional for us and as shocking as it may seem to some of you. No, we don't miss a white Christmas, since we've never had one around here.
My family consists of my mom, dad, and two older sisters. When we went to my grandma's house on Christmas Eve, though, we'd share the holiday with my grandma, who was a widow, my single aunt who lived with her, my married aunt, her husband, and her two kids. The youngest one of the two is five years older than me, so I was left far behind when it comes to adult stuff.
We would usually go there early and help out with the last dinner details. On Christmas Eve (unlike every other celebration) we would have dinner in the kitchen. That was odd to me because the dining room was where the fancy eating took place, and my grandma made sure that every celebration was a good one, but the Christmas tree was in the dining room, so we would eat in the kitchen because we didn't want to scare Santa away.
Dinner went by with a lot of heated political arguments, some boring anecdotes from before I was born and the usual "airing the dirty laundry" my aunts did when they had a drink too many. I got bored. I was a kid, the only kid around, and there really wasn't much going on that would entertain me... 
Around midnight (normally 15 minutes prior) my (married) aunt would pretend like she was sick to her stomach (let's just say she would not have won an Oscar with her performance) and go "lay down" in the bedroom next to the dining room (the layout of the house is really strange because it's an old Italian house and, well, it's odd, let's leave it at that). A little bit after my aunt went to bed, my oldest cousin would go check up on her, only to come back with the shocking news that he had seen Santa fly away. He would then hold my hand and slowly walk me to the dining room (quite a long walk), while we talked about whether we thought he'd brought presents, because he (my cousin) hadn't seen any. There were always presents. I was lucky that way, I know, and I shouldn't be complaining about their lies, I should be thanking them for giving me beautiful Christmases, but if there's anything that hurts me it's being lied to, I can take anything but a lie, so I'm particularly sensitive about this topic.
After we opened the presents, every one of my relatives would ask me which present I liked more, "do you like this new doll?" my single aunt would ask "is it the one you wanted?", it always was, my single aunt always got me exactly what I wanted. "What do you think about this awesome book?" my married aunt wanted to know, she always got me educational presents, and I always thought that education should only happen in schools, and that Santa should worry about entertaining me, not so much about educating me, since, to the best of my knowledge, he was no teacher.
The Christmas when I was seven, or maybe I was six, I don't remember exactly but it's irrelevant, I got a red-bottomed doll who peed when fed, it was exactly what I wanted, I had been asking for that doll pretty much since May, and my single aunt, who always knew exactly what I wanted, had gotten it for me. (I should also point out that I am antisocial from birth, so when we had big celebrations, I would spend a few minutes on my own, just to calm down, because crowds make me uncomfortable.) I was playing alone with my doll, trying to make her pee that is, in a bedroom away from everything, with the doors closed (that bedroom had three doors, weird house I tell you), and it all came to me, it was revealed to me as if I had had some sort of divine epiphany: "there is no Santa". Mine was a particularly easy puzzle to solve, and I felt stupid for having taken seven whole years to figure it out. I felt cheated, underestimated, I felt lied to, used, I felt people had been playing with me for their benefit, as if all this time I had been the family clown that everybody mocked for giggles.
I didn't share my newfound secret with anybody, I kept it to myself and pretended like I was still that innocent (or, as I viewed it, stupid) little girl who believed in the magic of a fat man from the North who brought presents to kids who behaved. As time went by I told my parents and sisters, but for some reason (they probably forgot, since it's not really a big deal for adults) they failed to tell the rest of the family, much to my benefit.
Two more Christmases went by and I had the chance to turn the tables, I had the chance to be the one laughing at them for a change. They knew Santa wasn't real, they knew they were faking the whole thing, but they didn't know I knew, and I seized my opportunity to be the one deceiving them this time.
With a little bit of cynicism (back before I even knew the word) and a lot of pain inside, I pretended like I still believed, and watched them play their little games. I sat through the political discussions, through the boring anecdotes that never involved me (because the person who told them didn't particularly care to include me in her life, I was too young to matter), through the same dirty laundry as every other Christmas, through the stomachache and through the long walk to the tree, only this time I knew, this time the joke was on them, this time it was I who laughed at their expense. 
Only, of course, I didn't laugh, because it's like peroxide in a wound, it's cool to watch the blood foam, but it hurts like hell. Well I watched it foam time and time again, I watched that slug twist and turn with the salt on its belly, I watched it die slowly and painfully, and I rejoiced in seeing them trick themselves trying to trick me. It was sadistic and mean and I don't know why I did it, but I did, I guess I just wanted a little bit more pain, because knowing I was surrounded by liars wasn't enough, I guess.
I must say though, this doesn't include my dad, mom or any of my two sisters, they never really bought into the whole Christmas fiction, and they usually complained about this, so, even though I was hurt by the fact that not one of them told me the truth before I made a fool of myself in front of the entire family, I didn't intend to trick them into making me believe when I already didn't, I told them well in advance and I don't think they were a part of it.
For two Christmases I kept that up. In 1993 my niece had already been born, and since she was too young to understand, and since my mom had told them a million times that "Ceci hasn't believed in Santa for a long time", someone came up with the idea of mixing it up a bit and doing a scavenger hunt instead of the usual "Santa's here!" crap. It worked, it helped me change my view on Christmas, and it became a strong tradition in the family, so I have my niece to thank for that. If that condom hadn't broken, I would probably hate Christmas and think of it as the time people lie to each other, instead of what I think now, that Christmas is the time people share their love despite it all, the time when people forget about their turbulent past to experience beautiful traditions and celebrate that one more year has gone by and we're still friends...

Well it's safe to say I won't be telling my kids about Santa... (Will I even have kids? Who knows... Some days I want to have two of my own and adopt two more, some days I want to never have any, because the world is crowded enough as it is and I'd make a horrible mother anyway). Truth is, if I ever do have children (whether I decide to or it just happens), they will know there's a traditional character named Santa who brings presents to kids, but they will also know that he doesn't exist, because I now know parents don't lie to their kids so they can make fun of their innocence, they do it because they want their kids to believe in something, they want to see the glow in their eyes when they see the presents under the tree, but I just don't think all the glow in the world can make up for the disappointment in their eyes when they find out the truth. Well, that and I'm a horrible liar.

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