Bottle of Childhood Secrets


The Wife says, “Change is a part of life. You have to be willing to change if you want to grow.” Without change there is no growth, especially when it comes to children. But there are some changes in life I wish would never happen — ones that, once out of the Bottle of Childhood Secrets, can never be put back in — just like the one that was let out of that bottle last weekend around our house.

It was a day I’d been dreading since our granddaughters were born, and with its arrival, their lives would never be the same. Everything about this holiday season would be different: the kids’ anticipation of Santa Claus’s arrival, staying up late and listening out for his reindeers on our roof, leaving cookies and milk out next to the fireplace for the big guy, and waking the adults up super early on Christmas morning. Okay, perhaps that last thing won’t change, but everything else has. And I don’t like it one bit.

Un-learning the learned.

Once you see something, you can’t un-see it. Likewise, once you learn something, you can’t un-learn it. Your collective memory is where all knowledge resides and is with you every waking moment. The collective memory also houses something else: the Bottle of Childhood Secrets. The bottle has, but for a moment, been opened at our house, allowing something that has been housed safely there for over eight years to escape.

The secret of Santa Claus.

I know the Girly Girls must change. They’re getting older. But with each change, a little of their childhood falls away, replaced by the reality of the world we all live in. With age comes change, and with change comes growth. And children aren’t the only ones that can grow when it comes to the holidays; adults can change and grow also.

But some growth I don’t like — especially after last week’s Thanksgiving dinner and three days of leftovers. If I change and grow much more, I won’t be able to fit in my “slim” shirts and pants. Bigger clothes aren’t on my Santa List, but a new battery-operated miter saw is. I digress; this story isn’t about holiday weight gain, new clothes, or even a battery-operated miter saw. It’s about the big secret of Santa.

When the Girly Girls revealed that they knew who Santa really is, I told them they weren’t exactly correct and there was more to the story.

“The legend of Santa is real,” I told them. “In A.D. 280, a monk called Nicholas lived near Turkey in a village called Myra. He was known for giving away all his inherited wealth and traveling the countryside, helping the poor and sick and showing kindness to children. Over the years, as his popularity grew, he also became known as the protector of all children. When he was elevated to bishop in the church, he took the name St. Nicholas, and his tradition of being kind and generous to children has been carried on ever since.

“Now it’s your turn to carry on the tradition. Keep the big secret. Never tell those who still believe, and never forget the true meaning of the Santa Claus. Giving out of love, without expecting anything in return.”

Do I still believe? Of course, I do, and there’s a good reason why.

Growing up a long, long time ago on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo, the year Twin Brother Mark and I turned eight, our Bottle of Childhood Secrets was open for a moment — letting the secret of Santa out. When we asked Dad if Santa was real, he did not hesitate. Firmly he answered, “The day you stop believing is the day he stops giving you presents.”

So, if you ask me, I will proudly confirm, “Yes, I still believe in Santa Claus, and I believe in Mrs. Claus too.”

I’m hoping when she reads this story, she’ll leave under our tree that new battery operated miter saw I’ve been wanting.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories weekly in The Citizen since 2001.]