When I was a child living in the projects in California, mom made sure that we had on vacation every year. She wanted to show her children that there was more to life than abject poverty, pee-yellow housing complexes, and government cheese. Almost all of those vacations consisted of a trip to Disneyland. Sometimes, we would leave at three in the morning, so we could be there when the park opened. We would stay one day. When the park closed, she would drive home stopping at a rest area to get some sleep when she got too tired to drive. She would then go to work the day we got back.
As I was reaching the age of unbelieving, my mom gave me one warning. She said if I stopped believing in Santa, I would stop getting Christmas gifts altogether. Not only doesn’t Santa deliver gifts to unbelievers, but there would be no point in getting gifts from others in celebration of the holiday. She didn’t want me to ruin it for my sister, and more importantly, for myself.
I kept my questions to myself. The same questions that are always talked about in Santa movies. How can reindeer fly? How can Santa visit so many houses in one day? How can the elves make all those toys? Sometimes, the questions were a bit more personal. If this toy is from Santa, how come it has a Toys R Us tag? But I like gifts, and the bribe was enough to allow me to ignore those questions.
One year around this time, we hadn’t made our annual vacation, so mom asked us what we wanted to do. It was December, and we had a choice. We could go to Disneyland, and not have gifts under the tree, or we could have gifts under the tree. My sister and I chose Disneyland. We were a little sad that there would be no gifts under the tree, but Disneyland was too much to pass up. Santa could deliver our toys to other children who needed them more.
We went to the Happiest Place on Earth and had a great time. Grandma came with us. My sister got a churro. We both got one souvenir. Driving back home, we knew we the tree wouldn’t have anything underneath it, and that was okay. We dropped grandma off at her house, and we went to our apartments. Mom opened the door, and when we walked inside, there was a mountain of gifts waiting for us.
I wracked my brain trying to figure out how mom could’ve pulled that off. Grandma was the only person she would have trusted with a key. There wasn’t anyone else in our lives that would have been able to place all those gifts there – much less purchase and wrap them. There was only one explanation: Santa.
I still hold that memory in my heart. Even if Santa doesn’t visit my house like he used to, he still shows up from time to time to make the season bright. He keeps the magic alive and allows me to hope for a better future for all of us. So, you may say there’s no such thing as Santa, but as for me and my house, we believe. Merry Christmas.
For a different version of this Christmas story, check out “My Life in the Projects: A kid’s-eye view of HUD housing in the 1980s” available at Amazon and through this website. It’s the mostly true story of growing up in the U.S. in government housing.