It was Christmas 1962, I was seven-and-a-half years old and having serious doubts whether Santa Claus was real. It was all the usual clues – the multiple Santas in the various malls, the hidden packages under my parents’ bed and the serious doubts a man with a white beard could fly in the sky with eight reindeer, squeeze down a chimney we didn’t even have, and deliver millions of toys to all the world’s boys and girls in just one night.
I was raised in the suburbs of Toronto, the middle child of five boys who was, frankly, a little different than his four brothers.
Hockey ruled in Canada, and I remember my dad at five in the morning driving my two older brothers to the indoor arena for hockey practice. There was a public outdoor skating rink around the corner where we lived and my father would flood our backyard every winter to make our own private ice rink. There was no shortage of ice, except on rare days when temperatures rose above freezing. This was obviously pre-climate change.
Hockey Night in Canada was close to a religion in our little suburb, and kids in our neighborhood donned hockey skates as soon as they learned to walk.
I, however, was not the least interested in hockey. I wanted to dance on ice.
I was totally enthralled with figure skating and loved watching it on television. When the Ice Capades came to town, I begged my parents to take me, to no avail. I was obsessed.
So that year, when asked what I wanted for Christmas, it was a pair of figure skates, making sure Santa understood that it was figure skates, not hockey skates – the ones that were all shiny black and had the little pointy things on the top of the toe blades.
I had never been this excited for Christmas. I threw all my Santa skepticism aside and set out milk and cookies for Jolly Saint Nick, with a big fat carrot for Rudolph, before going to bed.
I could hardly sleep, and aroused my sleepy younger brother at four in the morning to quietly sneak into the living room to check out what was under the tree. There it was – a box, all wrapped up: “To John, Merry Christmas from Santa.” My heart was pounding.
I impatiently waited until 6 am before dragging my parents and two older brothers out of bed.
We had a family tradition of giving each other gifts and opening them first. The big gifts from Santa were always left to the end; sort of the big morning crescendo before the big morning breakfast.
After waiting for what felt like an eternity, the box from Santa was finally on my lap. I savagely tore open the paper, lifted the lid – only to find hockey skates!
I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with the 1972 cult film Female Trouble, but in it, is a scene where the star, Divine, playing the teenage character Dawn Davenport is desperately wanting cha cha heels from her parents for Christmas. It being a John Waters film, when Dawn unwraps her present and opens the box to discover she did not get the cha cha heels her heart desired, she flies into a major tantrum, screaming, “these are not cha cha heels, I wanted cha cha heels you bitch”, then proceeds to throw her father into the Christmas tree which falls down on her mother, ending the scene with both parents trapped underneath, uncontrollably sobbing, “Oh Dawn, oh Dawn!”
My reaction was not so dramatic. As my disbelief turned into tears, I threw the box of hockey skates down and ran into my room, slamming the door for added affect.
There was no way to console me. It all confirmed what I knew in my heart was true – Santa was fake and my parents not only lied to me, but also knew how much these figure skates meant to me. With my Olympic dreams dashed, I felt betrayed.
I never did get a pair of figure skates, and it took awhile, but I finally forgave my parents.
My seven-and-a-half year old self learned some pretty big life lessons that day: people who say they love you, can deceive you; you can’t always get what you want; and, be dubious of anyone pushing invisible entities on you.
The following Sunday I loudly announced to my Sunday school teacher and class: “There is no such thing as Santa – or Jesus.”