modern disappointment.

A place to file your complaints. Submissions welcome.

The True Meaning of Santa. Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Believe in Altruism.


Believing in Santa Claus (or being Santa Claus) has never been for the faint-of-heart.

By Rosario Marzipan

Editor’s note: Typically Modern Disappointment sticks with subjects that are, for lack of a better phrase, not inspirational. But this story from Rosario Marzipan came from a place of disappointment and ended in a place of gratitude. Merry Christmas. 

I never got Santa. Even as a kid, I was sort of weirded out by the whole idea of this philanthropic stranger dropping gifts in my living room just because he likes kids and wants to see them happy, or whatever. I mean, I get it. Santa is a great idea. And in theory helps us to appreciate the concept of generosity at a young age, although obviously it comes with a catch. The catch is being “good.” And I suppose that the rich kids were the best, goodest kids, because Santa clearly favored them.

With my own kids, the idea of Santa was never forced on them. I love seeing them excitedly open presents, but I’ve always been conflicted about lying to them and insisting that a magical, fat elfmaster has arbitrarily gifted them copious amounts of toys. Pressure from other children and their parents placed me in the awkward position of continuing a tradition that I pretty much dislike. I mildly and passively supported the tradition through lies of omission. My kids insisted that Santa brought gifts, so I just let it happen that way. Under the tree, there are always gifts that are labeled for the recipient, but never from the gift giver. My oldest kid is hip to the truth at this point, but why rock the boat for the others? Uncomfortably, we continue on with our belabored lie.

And so it was, until last year, that every gift under my tree came from a very well known person, usually me. But last year things were different. Last year was a hard year.

In late summer of last year, I began to take one of my kids to a child psychologist. Melt downs and out-bursts were becoming harder to manage, and the dynamics at home were under a great amount of strain from just one family member’s inability to emotionally manage daily tasks. It’s a fairly common occurrence when you have a child who has a mental or emotional disability. Everyone was miserable, including my poor, unhappy fit-thrower, who I believe was in genuine pain. I desperately needed help. Unfortunately, I also had no money.  I found a place that allowed for payments on a sliding scale. Our payment per visit was $11. When I found out the charge, I cried. Not for the bill itself, but for the realization that things were really that bad. This understanding was mirrored back at me through the diminutive bill I was to pay for services well beyond the value of $11.

Most of the time, I had no clue how I was going to pay all the bills from month to month. Yes, I work. Yes, I am well/over educated. No, I do not have any savings. No, I was not covered by insurance for this type of medical intervention. Like many outwardly clean, “normal,” middleclass people, I have experienced the slow and steady decline of my income to dept ratio. My outstanding debts are medical bills and student loans, not jet skis, clothes or vacations. I make less now than I did a decade ago, and work more. This is a fact in my life.

And then came Christmas.

As December 25th approached, it became harder not to literally sweat and weep in public while contemplating exactly how I was going to put gifts under the tree. There was a large part of me resigned to the fact that it wasn’t happening. I was fine, and admittedly more comfortable, knowing that I, personally, would get nothing. But for the kids… Maybe the kids wouldn’t notice if they got gifts from extended family members? My youngest won’t notice. Maybe I can wrap something we already own?

How lucky we were already. “It’s like you don’t even need anything! We get to spend all this time together at Christmas, and that’s really what it’s about. Right, kids?” They nodded, “yes.”

I received a call from the child psychologist to come by the office and pick out some books for the family. She politely asked if it would be okay if they got the kids something for Christmas, “maybe a t-shirt or something?” I knew that she sensed my embarrassment. I agreed, and we set a date for me to swing by without the kids to pick up some gifts.

I managed to get to the office on a snowy, dark evening, days before Christmas and just before the office closed. They directed me to a huge table, stacked with an impressive supply of excellent, new books. I carefully selected a few books for each kid. As I browsed, I was careful not to take too much. This, after all, was meant for those less fortunate. Every book I take is one that someone else can’t have.

pile-of-gifts (2)On my way out the door, the psychologist stopped me, “wait, this is for you.” And with that, out came 2 huge cardboard boxes filled with presents. They were literally overflowing. In shock, I immediately burst into tears, Krakatoa style. Months of repressed fear, anxiety, guilt and relief erupted in a gush of tears and rolled uncontrollably down my face, as witnessed by a startled mother and child in the waiting room and the receptionist at the front desk. I was visibly shaken by this astonishing kindness, stunned like a jackpot winning game show contestant.

“These aren’t mine. It’s too much,” was my knee-jerk reaction.

“Yes, they are yours. The building collected items for families this Christmas. This box is for you.”

There were so many things that I could not carry them in one trip. The receptionist helped me down the stairs and patiently waited in the falling snow while I fumbled to unlock the trunk of my car which was frozen shut.

And as I sat in the driver’s seat, hunched over and crying into my sleeve, I really felt grateful. Deeply, deeply grateful.

After the kids fell asleep that night, I brought in the boxes and got a good look at what was in them. It was a treasure trove of matchbox cars and legos and learning toys, frilly hair barrettes and small gadgets. And then there were other things, too. Especially unexpected were the items that were clearly meant for me. A tube of pink lipstick and a bottle of nail polish. Economy sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner.  The anonymous people who donated to our Christmas have never met us.  That shampoo and conditioner lasted nearly a year. It really did make a huge difference in our daily lives. The compassion shown to us by benevolent, charitable strangers colored my perception and understanding of what small, collective efforts can do to better the lives of others.

Santa Holding Stack of Gifts

Thank you, “secret Santa.”

If you’ve ever donated to a Christmas collection charity, unsure if what you have contributed makes a difference, I can tell you first hand that it does. If not for the unrewarded generosity of strangers, our holiday would have looked much different last year. Truth be told, last Christmas was possibly the best, and totally unexpected, Christmas that my kids have ever had.

Christmas morning, the kids unwrapped packages, in utter surprise for the bevy of toys that they did not even ask for. Yes, it’s a cliché, but I got to see the look of joy on their faces as they opened their gifts and played with their new toys. My good kids got good gifts. And for the first time in my life, I actually got the point of Santa Claus.

Santa does exist. And it’s not a jolly fat man. It’s all of us.

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