The Aspen Beat column: Ghosts of Christmas
“You lied to me!” So said my 6-year-old daughter to me one merry Christmas.
We always made a big deal out of Christmas Eve. It was the one night that I did the cooking, and that alone made it interesting.
After the guests pushed the food around on their plates long enough that they could plausibly pretend they were full, our tradition was to open gifts. We thought that we and the gifts looked better in the dim Christmas Eve lights after a few single malt scotches than in the bright Christmas Day lights with a hangover. The kids often put on a play.
Eventually, the party ended and the guests went home. After the stockings were well hung by the chimney with care, the kids would nestle all snug in their beds in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. Hallucinogenic visions of plums and whatnot danced in their sugar-infused heads.
After even the mice weren’t stirring, the curtain lifted on my own little play.
I owned a Santa suit. What with my twinkly eyes, my merry dimples, my rosy cheeks and my snowy-white beard, I was near irresistible — or at least that’s what I was told when I got back to bed later. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
All lively and quick in my Santa suit, I went straight to work with a cacophonous clattering. Roused from their slumber to see what was the matter, the kids espied me from atop the stairs.
With a wink of my eye and a twist of my head, I wagged my finger at them, as if to warn that I might not be as droll as I appeared and had half a mind to deem them naughty.
I shooed them back into their rooms. “Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!”
Then I laughed till my six-pack shook. OK, it was only a four-pack. OK, two and a half.
I shouted, “Merry Christmas,” and then slammed the front door as if my rooftop sleigh had flown like the down of a thistle or something.
I then changed quickly out of my Santa suit and feigned alarm. “What’s going on? Who’s there?” The kids re-emerged from their rooms giggling.
I did this for years. It taught the kids to believe in Santa, love, Christmas, family, shouting, gifts, their fatuous father, alcohol and Jesus, not necessarily in that order. But mostly, it was just an act.
One Christmas, my younger daughter asked me a few days beforehand whether Santa was real. “Yes,” I told her. “And he loves you.”
Her sister, a year and a half older, was already pretty sure that the gig was a gag. But she didn’t let on.
The younger daughter found me out anyway. I can’t remember how. Maybe she saw the Santa suit in a closet. Maybe she recognized me behind the fake beard. Maybe her friends told her. Maybe she decided Dad was trying too hard. Maybe she just grew up.
It was that Christmas when she confronted me with my lie. I sputtered that my little show was my way of making things magical for everyone and, besides, I enjoyed it, and, “By the way, how do you like your new doll that Santa, er, your mother and I gave you?”
Our family survived that lie. Families are durable, after all.
But not indestructible. There were other things.
These days, my house is a different and quieter one. The single malts have aged better than I. Five dozen ghosts of Christmases past silently haunt me. I’m not sure what happened to that Santa suit. Or that Santa.
But hark! Hear I angels sing?
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Editor’s Note: A version of this column was published Christmas 2015.