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Santa ruled Christmas, back in the day. —Photo: Wayan Vota

I once believed in Santa Claus. Looking back, it is hard to understand how I believed in some of the “okey dokey” associated with Jolly Old Saint Nicholas. I never questioned how he traveled from the North Pole with enough toys for all of the homes in one evening. I never thought about how Santa maneuvered through the streets on a sleigh when there was no snow. I never wondered how Santa could drink so many glasses of milk and consume all of the cookies left for him. While I always embrace the true meaning of Christmas, the times, when I believed in Santa Claus, remain my most memorable thoughts of Christmas back in the day?

When did you begin to believe in Santa? As a child, I barely knew his name and certainly had no idea of his origins. Not until I became an adult did I learn that Santa has a history going back to the third century to a monk named St. Nicholas; a man admired for his kindness. What we experience today with Santa Claus had its beginnings as early as 280 A.D.

The commercialism of Christmas focusing on the purchasing of toys and gifts, has replaced an emphasis on the Christ in Christmas. As a child, from Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve, my focus was on the arrival of Santa Claus. Why Thanksgiving? The Gimbels Thanksgiving Day Parade and Santa’s entry into the department store’s eighth floor window explains it. I must say that I was always disappointed in watching Santa climb the ladder of a fire truck instead of Santa using his reindeer and sleigh to fly up to the window and go inside. Yes, this is what my young impressionable mind expected!

As December 25th approached, I recall family members asking me, “What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?” Besides going to visit Santa Claus, I also sent him letters listing my wishes for Christmas Day. I believe that my parents and family members viewed me as a good child. Yet, I went out of my way to be an exceptionally good boy as we entered the Christmas season. Do you recall being warned that Santa was watching when you misbehaved? What happened if you were bad? Were you told that Santa Claus would bring you a stocking full of coal? I do not know of any child that received a stocking full of coal. Hmm, did any of you receive a stocking full of coal, back in the day?

On several Christmas Eves past, I just knew that I saw Santa Claus in my home. I recall getting out of bed and going into the hall one Christmas Eve and seeing my father putting together my bicycle. While this was more than seventy-five years ago, I still recall my father telling me that Santa had dropped off the bicycle and asked him to put it together while he went out to his sleigh for other items. During my childhood, toys were not advertised on television as they are today. I usually made decisions about the toys that I wanted by thumbing through the Sears, Roebuck Christmas Catalog that arrived in the mail in November. The Christmas catalog, which was about three inches thick, arrived first. A few weeks later, a smaller catalog, The Christmas Wish Book arrived. The Christmas Wish Book was dedicated totally to Christmas.

I still recall my favorite toys; some were actually under the Christmas tree on Christmas Day. I suspect that some of you, like me, received such toys as a doctor’s kit, cap guns, an Erector set, plastic buildings and figurines, coloring books and trains. I believe my love for Lionel trains and the reason I am a serious Lionel train collector today is because of the many years I was given Lionel train sets and accessories by my parents at Christmas.

My father did not interfere with my belief in Santa Claus. However, he later told me that as a laborer for the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC), the predecessor of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), he resented my belief on Christmas morning that all of my toys and gifts had been provided by a White Santa when he had worked so hard to make me happy on this special day.

I know of at least one Black Santa back in the 50’s. “The Christmas Story,” an Amos ‘N Andy Christmas episode, was a heartwarming episode where Andy Brown was hired by a Black Human Resources Manager, in a large department store, to be Santa Claus. Google this episode and watch it. I am certain that you will enjoy it and you will see that there was least one Black Santa Claus, back in the day.

Nothing was more exciting than going into the living room on Christmas Day to unwrap my Christmas gifts and play with my new toys. I did not look forward to Christmas Day with the same degree of enthusiasm once I learned that there was no Santa Claus. Those my age know that our Santa Claus days ended many years ago. As a child, I believed in Santa; then I did not; then, as an adult, I became Santa Claus. During my era, not all parents permitted Santa to enter their homes because they did not celebrate Christmas. Some argue that believing in Santa, however, is a normal and healthy aspect of a child’s growth and development. Thus, many of us fondly reflect on those visits from Santa. While much has been written regarding the pluses and minuses of children believing in Santa Claus, I am on the plus side of the ledger. I wish that I could return to those ideal moments when I believed in Santa Claus. Back in the day, there was a loving spirit in the lives of children and adults; a loving spirit so evident because of a belief in Santa Claus.

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 South 16th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146 The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Philadelphia Tribune.

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