Still cool with Kringle

My faith was challenged at a young age, but I still believe in Santa Claus.
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Faith in St. Nick is the gift that keeps giving.

I still believe in Santa Claus.

I don’t hold athletes in the same regard that I did when I was young. Talent notwithstanding, they so often seem selfish, ignorant and contemptuous of the over-paying public.

Actors, comedians, musicians, politicians: I admire some, but the Internet and social media have rendered them all too human.

But I’m still cool with Kris Kringle.

It hasn’t always been easy. My faith was challenged at a young age, maybe 5 or 6. That Christmas, my father took me aside before we opened presents.

“I want to talk to you when we’re finished,” he said. I thought he had something to say to all five of us siblings, but when I informed my brother (five years older), Dad corrected me. No, he only wanted to speak with me, the youngest child.

Suffering from PTSD

More than four decades later, I still wonder why he had to tell me that morning, why he couldn’t have softened the blow by waiting even a matter of months: “You know, Neal, as poorly as the Red Sox are playing right now, it’s not as bad as what I’m going to tell you: There’s no Santa.”

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Santa and me, sometime in the early 1970s.

If there’s any truth to Mike Pulk’s contention in high school that I grew up too fast, then I trace it to that fateful Christmas morning. After all, I had heard something at a tender age that no child should ever have to hear. In retrospect, I probably suffered from PTSD: post traumatic Santa doubts.

I became the misunderstood kid, the one in second or third grade shaking his head in contempt of the con job that was the guy in the Santa costume who visited our classroom. Yet it wasn’t for a lack of conviction: This imposter’s suit was made of plastic! You have to have standards when it comes to Santa.

I’ve studied the St. Nick aesthetic since I was a kid, when I attempted to make my own Santa suit. I fashioned a beard out of cotton balls (pilfered from the bathroom, my mother ultimately to discover) glued to backing cut out of coloring book covers. There may have been red pajamas and a long knit hat, too.

I learned from the best, the real Santa with the real beard that I visited at Peck’s department store in downtown Lewiston, Maine, which was our small-city version of Macy’s. That was before Santa “helpers” started showing up at shopping malls. (Santa’s snowy set in the corner of the Lewiston Mall outside of Thom McAn was pretty cool, I have to admit.)

Breaking the cycle

I remember one illustrated children’s Christmas book that I had a particular affinity for, that I checked out on multiple occasions from the Lisbon Elementary School library. I still can see the image of Santa walking, on a right-hand page, that I attempted to trace through a sheet of paper. I liked his swagger.

And why shouldn’t you have swagger when you deliver presents around the world in a single night while still making time for personal appearances in the days leading up to Dec. 25? And not just once but every year, for decades and generations.

I have stayed steadfast in my beliefs. I broke the cycle of cruelty that my father probably passed on from his father (we’ve never spoken about it); I never told my son, Jack, that there is no Santa.

Sure, Jack has his own notions about Santa now that he’s nearly 16. Faith is a personal matter.

As for me, I still believe in Santa.

And I think with a little more time and more cotton balls, I could have made that beard work.

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