Cookies for Santa

My grandmother was sitting in her bed at a rehab facility, passing time until she was released home. 

"You better have the kids leave cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer," she reminded me.

A few days later, I'm at home with my kids, watching Peppa Pig, when Mommy Pig reminded Peppa and her brother, George, to leave out a mince pie and a glass of milk for Father Christmas, and carrots for the reindeer.

I never left cookies out for Santa at home. Only one year we found ourselves living at my grandmother's. I was in second grade. On Christmas Eve, my grandmother leaned toward me, with a light blue porcelain plate in her hand, and said, "We have to leave Santa some cookies and milk - and carrots for Rudolph!" Was she talking to me?! What was she talking about? People leave cookies for Santa? I was confused.

I, sort of begrudgingly, arranged the cookies on the plate, placing some carrots carefully beside them. 

"But won't the milk spoil, Gram?" That was the kind of kid I was.

"No, no. The milk will be fine. Leave him a note, Steph," she said, pushing a piece of paper and pencil towards me. I wrote 'For Santa' and set off for bed.

The next morning, my grandmother was hooting and hollering beside the plate. 

"Look, Steph! Look! He ate the cookies and Rudolph had a bite of carrot!" she smiled at me. Still, I was confused. How did Rudolph get into the house? Why  did Rudolph get into the house? He wouldn't fit through the doorway, and the fireplace was small. And how would he know to go into the kitchen? The whole scenario perplexed me. 

I wasn't feeling the magic.

We moved out shortly after, and don't remember leaving cookies or carrots again, probably because that same summer, my older cousin was kind enough to enlighten me that Santa did not, in fact, exist.

After the recent reminders for cookies and carrots, I began to realize that I harbored a healthy resentment towards my mother. Who did she think she was, anyway? Why didn't WE leave out cookies for Santa? Was it too much work to play along? Why did she forsake me these moments? 

Truth is, I would have enjoyed that little sprinkle of magic, and was growing angrier by the second. I had, in an instant, completely vilified her, decided she was not of the temperament for parenting, concluded she was a Grinch, hell-bent on robbing me of holiday spirit. Maybe she just didn't have it in her.

I'd gone so far, in fact, that I'd condemned her for letting me pick out my own cellophane-wrapped Easter baskets at K Mart, and very openly leaving me large bags of Mini Eggs on the kitchen table. There were no holidays.

I sat for a few minutes, thinking how I would never  forsake my children the magic of Christmas, any part of it - not the part with the glitter, or the part with the knotted strands of lights, or the part with the backbreaking reach to the top of the tree. The more miserable, the better. Bring it on. 

I decided that my children would not only leave Santa cookies and fresh hot cocoa, but would also leave full-stalk carrots with bushy green sprouts for Rudolph. And we'd write notes. One note for each child, in different ink colors, adorned with red glitter and foam shapes. And we'd leave a light on for him. If we were going, we were going out right. 

Over dinner this evening, my son, chewing over the holiday Peppa Pig  episode, asked me why a reindeer would eat carrots. Did reindeer even eat carrots? I didn't know. 'Because of magic!!' I wanted to say. Instead, I asked him what he thought reindeer ate. 

"Just leaves," he said. So maybe we'll get some leaves. No big whoop.

I had this entire tale written in my mind, when a little voice told me I should verify my facts. 

I picked up the phone and called my mother.

"Hello?" she answered.

"Did we ever leave cookies out for Santa?" I asked, accusingly.

"Nope," she said, matter-of-factly.

Great. She's smug about it, too.

"Nope, I can't remember us ever doing that. I don't think we ever did that," she explained, just driving the point home.

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