12/19/2014 02:55 pm ET Updated Feb 18, 2015

Growing Up and Out of Santa

Kathy Radigan

I've always been a sucker for Christmas. The music, the cookies, the kids' excitement as they write letters to Santa Claus. There's a magic to the season that I find absolutely irresistible.

For the past 16 years, Christmas has been particularly special for me because of my three kids. Our first child was born two weeks before the holiday. Ever since then Santa, reindeers, and the North Pole have been a regular part of our festivities.

I'm feeling a little wistful this year because I fear that it may be the last Christmas that we have a true believer in our family. Our youngest child is 9 and in the fourth grade. I was a year younger when I found out that there was no such thing as Santa. Or as I remember it, the day I took my first step into adulthood.

Holidays were a huge deal in my family when I was growing up, and none was as big as Christmas. Right after Thanksgiving, my mom would paint a holiday scene on our front door, start baking fruit cakes, make dozens of cookies, and plan her wonderful gingerbread houses. There was a joy that entered our house, and it stayed until New Year's Day.

My parents loved the mystery and fantasy of the season. They really turned the day into a magical celebration, and Santa Claus was a huge part of the plan.

My two sisters and I were lucky enough to actually see him every single year.

In the flesh.

In our own home.

At around 2:00 or 3:00 on Christmas morning, Santa Claus would come in to decorate the tree and bring our presents. He would stay just long enough to wish us a Merry Christmas, and then he would run out the door and continue his work.

Why were we so lucky to see Santa each year when our cousins and our friends didn't?

Well my maiden name starts with a B, and as everyone knows Santa delivers his presents in alphabetical order. It was just a good piece of luck that we had a name in the beginning of the alphabet. Our best friends and cousins had to suffer with surnames starting with H, M, or Z.

Poor souls.

My parents would put us to bed right after we got home from the children's church service we attended each Christmas Eve. This would be around 8:00 p.m. My two sisters and I would have to will ourselves to fall asleep. The anticipation was almost too much to bear.

With much fanfare and excitement, my mother would wake us up in the middle of the night. She would tell us to listen for the hoofbeats of Santa's reindeer's on our roof.

(It wouldn't be until years later that I found out it was my dad throwing pebbles on the roof. These people were not fooling around.)

I still remember the rush of adrenaline I would get as we walked down the stairs, clinging nervously to my mother. We were in the presence of a celebrity. And not just any celebrity, this was The Man himself.

How lucky could a girl from Long Island get?

Santa would call out our names and hand us each a present. Our sleepy eyes were barely open as my mother would prompt us to say thank you. He made it a point to let us know that he had been watching us all year and that we had been very good girls. Then he was off to deliver the rest of his toys. The whole visit lasted about five minutes.

As we were opening up our gifts, my dad, who always managed to miss Santa, would come back from the store having had to buy ice at 2:00 in the morning. We would tell him all about our visit and would unwrap the rest of our gifts while it was still pitch dark outside.

I never understood why my dad always forgot to get ice each year. Did the man never learn?

When I was in the third grade, my friends started to say something outrageous. According to some of these so-called friends, there was no such thing as Santa Claus. They had the crazy idea that our parents were the ones who really bought the gifts.

Poor misguided souls.

If only they had names in the beginning of the alphabet.

One day I'd had enough of these naysayers and decided to ask my mother, the person I knew would tell me the truth, why these poor children were doubting the existence of Santa Claus.

As I remember it, it was a few weeks before Christmas, and I was alone in the car with my mother.

"Mom I really, really want to know the truth, is there such a thing as Santa Claus?

"You want the whole truth Kathy?"


I should add that I was 99.9 percent sure she was going to say yes. How could it not be true? I saw him. Every single year.

"Well, there is a Santa, but he is the spirit of Christmas." Then she went on to explain that the man in the red suit who rode in a sleigh with eight reindeer was just a fun story.

I was devastated. This was not the answer I was expecting.

That was the beginning of the end of my childhood innocence.

I found out the truth. Daddy was Santa. He really did not go out to buy ice in the middle of the night, he was getting out of his costume.

What was the world coming to? What was she going to say next? That there was no Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny?

We both cried in the car. It was the beginning of the end for her, too. Her oldest child was growing up.

That Christmas was different for me. It ushered in a new phase in my life. I remember I got to stay up a bit later and trim the tree with my older cousins who were already in the non-believers' club.

As much as I loved the mystery of Santa, I also loved that I was growing up. I felt as if I was in a secret club, different from my sisters.

Our family traditions started to change after that year. The next Christmas we put up our tree as a family, and when my youngest sister finally admitted that she knew the truth, we even started taking turns dressing up as Santa. Christmas was still special, but different.

Peter is my baby, and when he crosses over to the land of the non-believers, that will be it for Santa and my family until my kids have families of their own.

Just as it was a step into adulthood as a kid, it will be a step into a new phase of my parenthood.

Of course that is exactly the way it should be. And I am thrilled and grateful to watch my children grow and change. But I must confess that this year my Christmas Wish is to have one more year with Santa.

This piece was previously published on My dishwasher's possessed!