I had woken up early with the full magic of Christmas in my heart, but within minutes the sleeves of my snowman pajamas were drenched in tears. I had tried my best to be good all year. It wasn’t so much a Santa thing– I was just, in general, a pretty easy kid, almost to a fault (read: tattle-tale).
I went to bed nervous on Christmas Eve. Everyone else was up late, snacking on fancy cheeses and drinking egg nog. It was approaching midnight, and I was worried that Santa would see the lights on and pass right on by.
So here we are on Christmas morning, the others are finally awake as well. In my family you were not allowed to so much as look at the tree until everyone was up, had gone to the bathroom, etc., etc. So you can imagine my role, as baby of the family, involved a lot of pestering and waiting.
Despite the late night celebrations, Santa had indeed come. The tree was lit with magical beauty, the gifts piled beneath it, the stockings stuffed full. I ran to my stocking to empty it, and anxiously removed a small tin can. What special little gift had Santa placed in this little tin can? What little toy or candy had he placed here just for me?
What I found was this: several small pieces of coal.
I let out a long, uncontrollable, series of sobs. It was not so much thought of not getting presents, but more a feeling of being very misunderstood, and the rising guilt of those few stupid mistakes I’d made that year: talking out of turn in class, taking shortcuts when cleaning my room, obeying the 8th grader on the bus who had coerced me into repeating the very “not family friendly” lyrics to a Coolio song.
My parents quickly came to the rescue, snatching the tin can from me, running into the kitchen with it to “see it in better lighting,” and returned, reading aloud the almost imperceptible “To Debby” that had been scratched onto on the lid. That made perfect sense. Debby was a very bad dog. In his late night exhaustion, and with a foggy egg-nog brain, Santa had clearly put the coal in my stocking instead of the dog’s.
I recovered enough to open the presents that had indeed been left for me, and I did so with a bittersweet satisfaction. I had learned the truth about Santa that year: he, too, makes really stupid mistakes.
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