On my seventh Christmas, my dad waved me over to his side on Christmas morning to show me a series of Polaroid pictures he had captured the night before. As I tucked my legs beneath me and settled between my dad and our sparkling Norway spruce, my jaw dropped. There he was. I squinted and moved closer.
"SANTA!" I screamed. My dad flipped through the images and smiled proudly at his accomplishment.
"There's Santa climbing out of the fireplace," he said of the figure in the photo before moving on to the next. "There he is eating the cookies we left out for him."
I grabbed the third photo from his hands and exclaimed, "And there he is climbing back up the chimney. Oh my gosh. Mommy, Allie, Robbie, come look!"
It was magical. It was Santa Claus. Right there in my den. Climbing in and out of my fireplace and enjoying the cookies that I had baked for him. None of my friends had believed in Santa Claus before, but these pictures were proof. Clear as day. The only explanation would have been if we had a life-sized Santa doll somewhere, but we didn't.
After the holiday break, I zipped the photos into my backpack and carried them into my second-grade classroom. My friends gathered around as I riffled through the images, proving that, without a doubt, Santa existed and my amazingly cool dad had been brave — and quick — enough to sneak some photos of him on the job. Immediately, I could sense the doubt melting from their faces. "Wow," one said. "We were wrong. That's Santa!" "So cool," another squawked. I had proven the jolly red man's existence at last. I tucked the photos away and smiled to myself.
Later, that August, as we prepared for a family vacation, my mom called me and my sister into the hallway and asked us to help our dad bring the suitcases down from the attic. My dad pulled the string on the ceiling, and down came the attic ladder. We climbed up carefully behind him.
The space was tight, cold, and dim, and it was very difficult to see. I stepped over a dusty lampshade, a metal trunk, a couple of garment bags, and something that looked like a gumball machine. Eventually, I could make out shapes, and from across the attic, I spotted the black strap from our luggage.
I walked over and tugged on it, but it was jammed. I pulled harder. No luck. I leaned back, put my whole body into it, and hauled the strap towards me.
Finally the strap came free, but it wasn't attached to my luggage. In fact, it wasn't a strap at all. It was a giant stuffed black boot, attached to a hulking, life-sized Santa Claus doll. The doll came flying at me and knocked me over.
"Are you okay, Lu?" My dad dropped the suitcase in his hand and came running over to me. When he saw what I saw, he began backing away slowly. "Oh no..." he laughed nervously. "Well, you caught me."
And that's how I learned the hard truth about Santa Claus.