It was the first scoop of my career.
A mystery that affected millions, but remained unsolved. A phenomenon that had occurred annually for decades, but about which the adults around me showed surprisingly little curiosity.
How could a full-grown – obese, in fact – man shimmy down a chimney while carrying a big bag of presents? How could he go unnoticed?
Police had his description: Heavy-set Caucasian man, 1,749 years old, six-feet-tall, long white beard and a twinkle in his eye, last seen wearing a red suit with white trim, black belt with gold buckle, and carrying a large sack. The suspect was often spotted flying a red sleigh powered by nine reindeer, one of which had a glowing red nose.
Not only did we know the suspect’s name, but we knew where he lived.
Still, police never captured this elusive man, who’s alleged to have committed millions of break-and-enters.
He would leave presents under the Christmas tree while children and adults were asleep. But why? Was it merely a distraction for other nefarious tasks? Nobody seemed to care.
Despite my lingering questions, I took the bait, opened my presents each Christmas morning and kept my silence. Sometimes it’s better not ask too many questions.
And then it happened – a night I will never forget. I caught him red-handed in my father’s apartment when I was six years old.
Dad came into my room on Christmas Eve.
“He’s here! He’s here!” I was told.
Sleep still in my eyes, I climbed out of bed and peeked around the bedroom door frame, quietly and carefully. I didn’t want to risk startling him.
I spied on him as he tippy-toed to the cookies and milk, walked around the corner and disappeared.
It was magical.
That was all the evidence I needed. I was an eye-witness and I was eager to testify.
In the years following, the debate would surface amongst my friends. Was Santa real?
I fought relentlessly to convince my friends of the truth. But as I got older, the scales began to shift. It was no longer me against a few, it was my word against everyone. The debates eventually turned into teasing.
I was still holding out hope, when I was 10 years old, that Santa was real, but I was overwhelmed with skepticism.
I needed the truth.
After Christmas shopping with my mother, I brought up the topic.
By now, I had got better at not only asking questions, but really listening to the answers.
“Mom, do you believe in Santa?” I asked.
She decided, at that moment, she would be a politician.
“I believe in the spirit of Santa,” she responded.
“That’s not what I asked… Do you believe in Santa Claus?”
“I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus,” she said again.
I quickly pieced it together. Her answer was a remarkable revelation that told me all I needed to know. That was not the real Santa I had watched sneak around my living room.
I felt embarrassed. After years of arguing with my friends, I was, indeed, the fool.
Instead of being Santa’s greatest ally, I became his worst enemy. From then on out, anytime someone asked if Santa was real, I vowed to set them straight with the cold, ugly truth: Santa is a hoax.
However, much like a cold case file collecting dust in an evidence locker for 25 years, a new question has emerged. It’s one I never thought to ask at the time.
If that wasn’t Santa in my living room that Christmas Eve, then who was it?
A paid actor? A family friend?
Or, perhaps, it was, in fact, the spirit of Santa Claus.
Did it really matter?
Even for a perpetually curious journalist like myself, I realized, once again, that sometimes it’s better not to ask too many questions.