Dueling memories of Santa Claus lost and found

SNEED: Finding out there was no Santa was a blow, but the idea would revive itself wonderfully.

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Michael Sneed and her family as seen in this photo from the mid-1960s. Back row (from left): Sister Pat, Mike. Front row: Sister Jo, mother June, sister Jac.


There are days.

And then there is Christmas day.

And, for some, the double-dog-dreadful day of dead reckoning.

The day you discover there is no Santa Claus.

I had gotten it so wrong, arguing with every kid in third grade that Santa still existed.

So why is my Santa slam still irksome?

“No. No Santa, honey. And no Tooth Fairy, either,” said Mom gently!

I sobbed. Mom had … fibbed?

“No Tooth Fairy?” I convulsed. “Mom, what about the tooth I just put under my pillow!”

Is there some career karma involved in all this recent Christmas anxiety? Asking two too many questions at the same time and losing the story?

Sneedless to say, it was time to reflect and resolve.

So I did what any seasoned journalist would do.

I called up my sister, Pat, Jac and Jo. (Did I mention our pooch Daisy was also female?)

“How did you find out there was no Santa?” I inquired as a natural segue to talk about myself.

Their response? It’s called the trickle-down effect.

“You told me!” chirped Pat, 76, confessing to being an ”eavesdropper” on my Santa conversation with Mom. “I didn’t care as long as we got presents.”

Pat, a self-described “cynic” who collects first-edition murder mystery books and claims to read one a day, turns into an Ms. Magic every December.

“One of my first Christmas memories was carrying our baby sister Jac to the Christmas tree and introducing her to it,” said Pat. “She was now going to be the one who believed in Santa … So the magic for me was going to start all over again! Then with my kids and now my grandkids.”


Sister Jo, 61, also blames me for erasing Santa.

“It wasn’t hard to figure out when I saw YOU wrapping all the presents late one night and putting them under the tree when I was little,” she said. (The youngest of our sister foursome, Jo was born when I was a senior in high school.)

Side story: In 1968, Jo was 8 years old and living in Saudi Arabia when our U.S. Corps of Engineers father was placed in charge of building a military cantonment for the Saudi army.

“It was my first Saudi Christmas, and very little was available for Christmas toys,” she said. “So dad pulled money out of his own pocket and gave it to the project’s contracted workers, who lived all over the world, to buy a doll for me while heading home to celebrate their ‘Yule’ season,” said Jo. “I wound up with at least 100 dolls! I cried forever.”

Sister Jac, 69, our spoonful of spiritual reality at Christmas — who sports our father’s bawdy sense of humor — recalls no surprise at finding a closetful of unwrapped presents. “Mom was always in the bedroom wrapping presents,” she said.

“Memories impact everyone differently,” she said. “I think Santa came and went quite easily for me. Besides, Christmas is about helping and giving and caring for those who are alone.”

My sisters’ varied Christmas memories reminded me of a Christmas letter written long ago by my late friend Steve Crews to his son Sam, who had just learned “the truth” about Santa Claus the night before Christmas.

It is not my first retelling, but it is powerful. Here are excerpts from the Christmas morning note from Santa written to Sam by his dad, Steve, a former newspaper reporter, advertising whiz, brilliant wordsmith and master storyteller.

Dear Sam, Your dad stayed up last night to tell me that you now know as much about me as I do about you. Well, good. I’m glad you asked. And don’t worry, no child ever really leaves me. Ask your mom. Ask your dad. They know I don’t live in the North Pole (too cold). They know I don’t ride in a sleigh (too dangerous). Still, they love me, and so will you, even 50 years from now. Oh, and what do you think happened last night just as you were asking about me? Why, a baby was born out in Kalispell, Montana. That’s right, just as you were putting aside your belief, a brand-new child was born who can put it to good use. So long as that keeps happening, I’ll never be out of a job.

Steve has since died. Sam will always have Steve’s letter.

And I will reflect on its wisdom the rest of my life.

A merry and a blessed Christmas to everyone.


Rahm Emanuel is sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan


Ambassador Rahm

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel was sworn into office Tuesday as the new U.S. ambassador to Japan in the old courtroom of James Benton Parsons, the first African American judge to serve in a U.S. district court, an appointment conferred by President John F. Kennedy.

Sneedlings …

A camera on a roof! Tom Rossiter’s stunning skyline photo exhibit taken every day of 2020, a metronome for Chicago’s passage of time during a year of the pandemic titled “Anthropocene Mountain,” is now being exhibited at Chicago’s Primitive Gallery. “The exhibit illustrates the way we live on the planet,” said Rossiter. It was also selected to be exhibited at the World Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, this year. Way to go, Tom! … Christmas Eve birthdays: Christmas birthdays: Ricky Martin, 50, Ryan Seacrest, 47, Lee Daniels, 62, and Dr. Anthony Fauci; 81; Christmas birthdays: Annie Lennox, 67, Sissy Spacek, 72, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 50 … and a shout-out to former Chicago Sun-Times celebrity columnist Bill Zwecker … a Christmas sparkler, and Tom Rossiter, ageless.

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