When I was 6 my older cousin, Enrique, told me the devastating news that Santa wasn't real. He wasn't just talking the talk about Santa he had the proof as well. You see his younger sister's birthday is close to Christmas and every year she had the best parties ever. It was a costume party and since it was December guess who came to town? Yup jolly old St. Nick. He came with his rosy cheeks, a sack full of gifts and a mighty, booming HO! HO! HO! The way I remember it we used to sing Santa Claus is Coming to Town to prepare for his, um, sleigh ride into tropical Manila and he used to ring a bell to let us know he was coming. It wasn't exactly a sleigh bell, more like an ice cream vendor's bell. Looking back now, how could I not have figured it out. No way in hell Santa would have the same bell as mamang sorbetero. As soon as I heard the faintest sound of the ringing my stomach went all woozy and I thought my heart would leap out of my chest. Every single guest got a present and I always got what I asked for. It was perfect. Until 1980 that is.
Turns out that Santa was the grandfather of my cousins on the other side of the family. Enrique was likely in on it since he was always picking on us younger cousins which must have put him on the naughty list every year. So I figure rather then him throwing a tantrum every year over not getting a gift they made him Santa's little helper. I guess they forgot to make him sign a non disclosure agreement.
Gael is 6 so I had a feeling the whole farce of Santa was coming up soon. I had a stinking suspicion it was coming immediately when I caught his friend punching the Santa on a stocking hanging on the stairs repeating "You're not real, you're fake. You're not real, you're fake." over and over. There are a few older boys in Gael's neighborhood pose and I am sure the younger ones were enlightened by the older ones. The older kids stop believing, stop receiving gifts so they destroy the fantasy for the younger ones so they aren't alone in their Santaless giftless misery. Infant conspiracy theory at it's finest.
That very afternoon Gael asked me the big question but it wasn't exactly the question I was expecting. Instead of asking me if Santa was a fabrication of desperate grown ups in an attempt to curb the rotten behavior of kids he gave me an even better option. He asked me "Mama, is Santa real or is he the spirit of Christmas?". Hallelujah! I don't have to break his little heart by telling him I am the one who buys the presents, I am the one who delivers them on Christmas eve and that I've essentially been fooling and blackmailing him about the non existent Santa all along. Gael gave himself the best answer. I would have had said something along the lines of Santa being a result of the commercialization of Christmas exploited by various industries. I'm beginning to like his version much better.
I on the other hand was a stubborn kid. It didn't occur to me that when Enrique told me Santa wasn't real it also meant the Three Kings were just as fake. I still believed in the Tooth Fairy and was the weird kid convinced Thumbelinas lived in my garden. Seriously. I was a late bloomer in the cynicism department.