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Once I turned 50, would Santa quit coming?

A family story about passing the torch on a Christmas tradition.

By Teresa Mears Dec 24, 2009 12:45PM

Since it's Christmas Eve, I thought I'd share a Christmas story. It has a bit of a personal finance angle, since it involves spending money on gifts, maybe on gifts people didn’t even want. And yet those gifts mattered after all.


The year I was 51, Santa Claus almost didn’t come.


In most families, Santa visits only the children. But in our family, he left presents for adults and children alike. Long after my four sisters, brother and I had grown into adulthood, Santa Claus was still coming. As the family expanded, through marriage and children and then grandchildren, Santa kept coming.


Santa, of course, was played by my mother, who found Christmas magic in a way I envied, because I had lost that feeling in my early teens.

Mom began her Christmas shopping the day after Christmas, buying notebooks and pens and Christmas ornaments, plastic razors and crayons and pocket packs of Kleenex. Santa, of course, also brought us stockings filled with candy and little gifts.


Santa Claus always bought a few extra presents, just in case we had a last-minute guest for Christmas, and we often did. Visiting college roommates, boyfriends and girlfriends, stepchildren, cousins and in-laws -- Santa brought presents for all of them. If I was away at Christmas, the stockings and the presents from Santa came by mail, and when I moved in with my partner, Santa Claus sent her presents, too.

Over the years, the Santa Claus presents became something of a family joke. Like children, we felt our presents though the brightly colored paper, identifying the pens and pencils and combs before we had unwrapped them.


Over the years, we suggested to Mom that she didn’t need to do that much, that we didn’t really need the Kleenex and combs and plastic razors. But every year they came, a family tradition that endured from the time I was old enough to notice until I was 50.


But the next year, something was different. Mom had grown forgetful and somewhat distant. She was diagnosed first with cancer and then with Alzheimer’s. She still knew who we all were, and she still talked about Christmas shopping, but she didn’t want to do any, even with help.


There was a last-minute flurry of e-mails among the siblings: Do we just forget about Santa? The few children young enough to still believe could have Santa visit at their homes.


They may have been in their 40s, but my sisters and brother weren’t ready to give up Santa yet.  A decision was made: Each family would buy one Santa present for everyone in the family, 30 to 40 people. Santa would keep coming.


Today, Christmas Eve, I will join my sisters and my nieces, who are now 10, 18 and 21, at my parents’ house. For the third year, we will wrap the presents from “Santa” and fill the stockings. If it is a good day, my mother will help with the wrapping.


And tomorrow, as we have for more than 50 years, we will all joke as we unwrap combs, pencils and packets of Kleenex.


Thus are family traditions passed to a new generation.


Merry Christmas and happy holidays.


-- Teresa Mears


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