Yes, Verina, There is a Santa


Every December I swear up and down I won’t get sucked into watching another marathon of sappy Hallmark Channel movies that end with snowflakes falling on cue in a freaking Christmas miracle come true. That’s all great if you believe in Christmas miracles, but I’m a natural-born cynic.

A good friend of mine, a pragmatic woman who (unlike me) is highly opinionated, calls Christmas the “Season of Lies.” She couldn’t wait for the day she could just tell her kids the truth and be done with it. You know which truth. I don’t have to go there.

The way I see it, parental lying isn’t just a holiday tradition. When I was a kid I thought my dad was the smartest man in the world. He knew everything! I was destined to be a reporter because I always asked a lot of annoying questions. Dad always had an answer, even if it wasn’t the real answer. “I don’t know” was not a phrase in his vernacular.

By the time the grandkids came along, Dad was so damn smart that we began referring to his stories as “Grandpa’s Almanac.” The kids’ all-time favorite is about when he bit off the head of a striking rattlesnake and spit it out. It resides for posterity, fangs bared, inside a paperweight on his desk. If Grandpa told it, it must be true.

Our generation doesn’t lie as well as our parents. I prefer to call it creative truthfulness. It’s not really a lie if it’s partially true, right? If you’re one of those parents who believe in being totally honest with your children, you’re missing out on all the fun. You can say just about anything to your little kids and they will look up at you, eyes shining with wonderment, and believe you are absolutely amazing. These moments must be taken advantage of because they don’t last very long. It’s also important to have humiliating tales to someday tell your children’s children.

Our son Jack was about three years old when we took him to a Christmas tree lot in Phoenix. Back then I was still adamant about getting a real tree despite the risk of the whole thing going up in a lick of flames and charred like Wile E. Coyote caught holding the TNT.

I’ve always had a little mommy guilt that my children have never experienced the thrill of hunting for the perfect Christmas tree. We used to tromp through the woods of Montana in knee-deep snow looking up and down at every potential pine. Dad always knew exactly where to find the biggest, plumpest tree. We’d ceremoniously saw it down and drag it back to the truck with the pungent scent of pine filling our senses. I remember being so fascinated by the silence of falling snow and the whispers of wind through the forest. Now that was magical.

Here in the desert, hunting a Christmas tree isn’t so easy. The nearest pine is more than a 100 miles away and cutting one down might take an act of Congress. So I stretched the truth, just a little, in a pathetic attempt to make a snowless, commercial tree lot in Phoenix exciting for my overactive preschooler. I told Jack to stand quietly and listen: “Listen closely, son, for the perfect Christmas tree to call out  for us. We don’t choose the tree. The tree chooses us by whispering your name.”

Tom caught on to this idea quickly and began sneaking through the trees, softly crooning our son’s name then darting away as Jack ran from tree to tree. We nodded in silent agreement at the one we would take home, and Jack leaned into it, listening intently for it to call his name.

“Jack…Jack…pick me! Pick me!”

“I hear it!” he squealed. “Mommy! Daddy! I really hear it! This is our Christmas tree!”

So we paid the tree man a ridiculous sum of money and tried to ignore that the greenery was shedding at an alarming rate. We decorated it in seasonal glory, but it barely made it to Christmas before the vacuum was clogged with brittle, fallen needles. A random spark from static cling was as perilous as taking a match to it.

I must confess, at the risk of ruining my rep as a hardcore skeptic, I’m getting more sentimental at Christmas time, hence the addiction to holiday reruns on TV. The other day I saw a few adorable toddlers nearly wet their pants when Santa arrived at a Christmas festival. It made me a little sad because these days we put up a fake Christmas tree and our gullible little boy, who once looked up at us in awe of our unbounded intelligence, is now a sarcastic 16-year-old who tells us to “chill” because he knows absolutely everything.

I’m told that someday, when he’s older, he’ll understand why Santa left a lump of coal in his stocking on Christmas morning and realize that we weren’t so stupid after all. Now that will be a made-for-TV Hallmark moment.

I guess I’m waiting for that Christmas miracle after all. So I say yes, Verina, there is a Santa Claus!

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Verina Palmer Martin is a Missoula native who fled town in 1986 in search of truth and eternal sunshine, which led to a  longtime newspaper career in Arizona. She’s happily married to a Montana boy who tracked her down 20 years ago, and he still makes her laugh like he did in high school. She blames the UM School of Journalism for her addiction to news ink and ridiculously high journalistic ethics.