When the jolly old elf does not quite fit a family's religious convictions

December 1976:

You are a devout Christian with an even more devout husband. At 22 you already have three children, ages 1, 5 and 6.

Right now, as you lie in bed a few weeks before Christmas, your husband Larry (not his real name) brings it up again, as he has since your oldest daughter Mary (not her real name) was born. "What are we going to do about Christmas this year?" He's uncomfortable with the Santa Claus you grew up with and would rather not participate in the idea.

Weekly Bible study has convinced him (and has just barely convinced you) that the concept of Santa Claus is a demonic ploy to sway children from the real meaning of Christmas—the birth of our Lord and Savior.

"But they don't understand any of that," you say, thinking of the closet of toys you hope to find courage to tell him about at some point before Christmas.

Frustrated, he mumbles something about "The Dark Helper of the Bishop St. Nicholas" before falling asleep.

This year, you compromise. You stop signing, "From Santa," on gifts. You hope your husband will grow out of it.

December 1977:

He doesn't grow out of it. This year, when you discuss Christmas with your husband, he seems even more zealous than before. You think drastic measures may be in order.

While he's working the night shift, you call to your oldest daughter Mary, now 7 years old. She's watching Rudolph in the living room with her brother and sister. The reindeer has just redeemed himself to "Santa Christ," as Larry would say. In her bubble-gum encrusted nightgown, Mary comes to your bedroom. When she sees that you've laid out all of the gifts on your bed, she stands at the door frame in shock.

You tell her, in the sweetest voice you can muster, that you're letting her in on a very special secret and that you need her help wrapping gifts. You tell yourself you're doing this—destroying her Santa illusion—for your husband, as Mary stares at the Holly Hobby doll house she wanted, sitting lopsided near your pillows.

This year, you compromise with Mary, too. "We can pretend we are Santa's elves," you say.

December 1978:

You come home late after spending too much money at the mall.

"Where have you been?" screams Travis (his real name), now 3 years old and prone to angry outbursts. Mary knows exactly what you've been up to. She scuttles the bags of gifts from the front door to your bedroom while you take Travis to the kitchen as a diversion.

Your other daughter, Lisa (not her real name), has gone overlooked in all this fuss (as usual). She barges in on Mary hiding the gifts in your closet.

Lisa cannot keep a secret. She will never be able to, as you will find out so many times over the years. As you are pouring Travis a second glass of milk, she races right up to you and beams maniacally because she has caught you in a great big lie.

"I know all about it," she tells you, smugly. Please please please don't let her tell the youngest, you beg sweet Jesus. Thankfully, she knows better.

That night you'll dream of a Claymation Santa Claus and Satan standing in a burning cauldron. In this dream, your husband Larry lies dead on the ground.

December 1979:

There is no bedroom Christmas conversation this year. You aren't sure why, but Larry has stopped going to Bible study. He even watched a few cartoon Christmas specials with the kids.

You wake up three days before Christmas with a list in your head. Most of this is from "randomly placed" scraps of paper your daughters have cut out of their grandmother's Sears catalog. Larry has also offered gift suggestions. (Gift suggestions!) He's worried his 4-year-old son is too effeminate.

On Christmas morning, your daughters open up their matching jewelry boxes, matching sweaters, and matching earrings. For the first time ever, they look at you in disgust for lack of imagination. You'll soon learn they will forever resent getting the exact same things as each other, every year, just because they are sisters.

Your son Travis opens up his presents, the presents you bought at Larry's insistence. There is a suction-cup bow-and-arrow set, which he'll never learn how to use, and a Tonka truck, which he promptly throws down in disgust. Travis cries that Santa didn't read his Christmas list. He cries that he hates Santa Claus. He yells that Santa had better die by falling into a chimney fire. He yells that he wanted Star Wars action figures and piano lessons.

You look at Larry. His face is a mixture of horror and anger. Since giving in to the Satanism of Santa for the first time, he has been sent a wrathful rebuke from God in the form of an ungrateful son. He rushes off to shovel snow out of the driveway, and yells at your daughters, "Tell him there's no Santa Claus!" You know your son heard that terrible declaration, but out of guilt he will pretend he hadn't for a few more years and instead take a more aggressive tack in his "letters to Santa," leaving them for you—and only you—to find.

Larry will never speak about this to you again. Santa, as it turns out, was evil after all.