When I was growing up, I don’t think I ever believed in Santa Claus. This might have been because my parents were less inclined to indulge in make-believe than some, but I think it was mostly because the house that I grew up in had neither a chimney nor a fireplace.
While it might have been possible for me to be convinced that Santa Claus came down the chimney and put presents in stockings set over the fireplace, it would have been very difficult for me to believe that Santa forced the back door and snuck up to the banister over the stairs leading up from the front door, which is where my sisters and I put our stockings. Besides, our parents used to give us strict instructions that we could not emerge from our bedrooms on Christmas morning until a set time (I think it was 7 am), so I kind of figured out that Mom and Dad were providing the presents, not Kris Kringle.
So I grew up not realizing that Santa Claus was really important to people, even after they had long since stopped being children. I found this out the hard way many years ago when doing colour commentary for an improv show: I mentioned that there was no such person as Santa Claus, and I was roundly booed by the entire audience. After the show, a man came up to me and said that if his kids had been in the audience, he would have had to punch me.
I was ashamed and somewhat dumbfounded – I can understand not wanting to disillusion children, but we were adults here, weren’t we? I came to the conclusion that my thoughts were different from the cultural norm, and that I needed to be aware of this in order to function properly in the society in which I live. Since then, I’ve used the term “Santa Claus moment” to refer to situations in which I realized that I needed to adjust my behaviour to fit the way people around me behaved.
By the way, even though I have never knowingly believed in Santa Claus, I sometimes think it’s fun to imagine that there actually is a jolly old man in a red and white suit distributing presents around the world at Christmas time. And, since I am not a parent, I would never tell a child that there is no such person as Santa. I would never want to make a child unhappy, and I certainly never want to get punched.