Santa EXPOSED: First Chapter

Santa EXPOSEDAs a reminder, Santa EXPOSED is free on Amazon right now. If this first chapter makes you at all curious, why not snag a copy and read the rest for free? While you’re at it, leave some cookies and milk for yourself as a reward.

Chapter One

I suppose I should start three days before Christmas.

That’s as close as I can pinpoint a beginning. Though really, the story starts a year before that, the day after Christmas, when I was 10 about to turn 11, rather than 11 about to turn 12.

But three days before Christmas when I was still 11 was when I started searching for the truth alongside Hollis Dawson. And well, that pushed things in ways I wasn’t expecting to get pushed. Don’t get me wrong, I was after the truth. But the truth is like a present: layers live over what is inside.

There are people who will tell you — swear up, down, inside out and in brightly colored circles — that the stuff that happens in a story, say in a fairytale, is the stuff that can’t happen in reality. Then there are others who know — will swear — that the opposite is true. Then there are people like you, who are right at the age of believing or not. This isn’t just true for young people, it’s true for all of us. Even me right now. Some people live at this edge forever, and it’s wonderful, to never stop believing, always knowing there’s something on the other side of reality even though you can’t prove it.

You wanted to know the truth, so here it is. As it happened to me. I can’t tell you what to believe, but I can tell you what I believe, and why. I can tell you that the people who say that the stuff in fairytales can’t happen, or that magic doesn’t exist either don’t know what they are talking about, or worse, they’ve been ruined by a life that’s not nearly as pleasant as yours. Something awful happened at one time or another to make them forget that cold, hard logic can only move them from one corner to the next. Imagination can take them anywhere.

You could skip to the end and find out the truth right now, but I hope you won’t. It would ruin a lot of magic you can never have back. The truth is never just one thing, it’s all the smaller things along the way. Truths are buckets of water, filled by billions of drops.

Three days before Christmas I was at Mayfair Park, four blocks from my house. I cut through the park each day on my way to and from school. It’s a large park, with three playgrounds, a sprawling community center, one and a half pools (there’s a tiny one for toddlers), and each Christmas a large gazebo with the neighborhood’s favorite Santa. It’s also the place where Jimmy Gray swears on his PS3 and every game of his brother’s that he saw the real Santa there four years before. A year after that it was Eddie Jensen. April Gosling after that. Then Sandy Ames and Isabelle Joffrey. Then last year, nothing.

Last year, no one saw a thing, including me. I begged Mom to let me stay out. A few kids said they were staying the night, though it turned out no one’s mom really let them, and it seemed that earlier reported sightings may have been witness exaggerations, from those who may or may not have ever left their house.

I snuck out anyway. I couldn’t help it.

My Avengers clock said 2 a.m. when I snuck back in the house. Our stockings were hung by the chimney with care when I left. When I came home they were stuffed like every Christmas morning before. I crept through the house, slipped into bed, and wondered if I’d staked the wrong place. Maybe I should have been watching my parents.

I don’t remember falling asleep. It happened so fast. I woke what felt like five minutes later to the sound of Sarah squealing.

“He came, Josh! He came! Come downstairs and see!”

I was exhausted. I wanted to be excited, but felt defeated. My bones hurt from a horrible night’s sleep and too much cold (though it wasn’t really that cold at all). I was mad at Jeffrey Little for asking, “So, when did you stop believing in Santa?” a month before and changing the way I thought about everything, planting doubt in my mind where there were no seeds before.

I went downstairs and sure enough, just as Sarah said, he had been there. Or someone had.

As I’d seen when I crept back inside the night before, stockings were stuffed heavy and dripping down from the mantle, fat from chocolates, games, and tiny decks of cards. Socks, underwear, and three gift cards each, $5 to all our favorite places. Mine were for Shell (because I always wanted something when my parents gassed up and they always said no because gas station convenience stores were too expensive), iTunes (music, apps, and movies!) and Target, not that $5 was a lot at Target, but I liked to save them up.

They were the same gift cards (more or less) as the ones I got every year, yet as I shuffled them in my hand, looking down as I did, I saw something that I’d never seen, even though it was obvious: none of those places was anywhere near the North Pole, and I highly doubted that Santa had any sort of deals with local retailers. My present from Santa was an iPod Touch, exactly what I had asked for. But after I unwrapped it, and felt that warm flush of relief from knowing that Santa had come through again, I wondered why the iPod said it was made in China, rather than the North Pole.

I asked Mom and Dad if Santa really made things in the North Pole, or if he had special deals with factories all over the world (surely he couldn’t buy all of those gadgets and toys himself), but they gave me an answer that meant nothing and quickly changed the subject. They could have simply said “magic” like they always had before. Instead, they saw doubt in my eye and said senseless things, hoping my questions would go away. But they didn’t. Doubt nested instead, and sat in my mind like a splinter for a year.

I was obsessed, and read everything I could find, both online and off, searching for the truth about Santa. Nothing led me to a straight answer. I had found a great global conspiracy, where grown-ups all agreed to keep kids from the truth.

It was awful. Even online I found no answers. I Googled, “Is Santa Claus real?” and got nothing but lies. I learned plenty, just not what I wanted to know. I discovered that Santa was originally known as Saint Nicholas, and that he was a part of the Catholic Church. That version of Santa shared little with the fat man in the red suit who had been popularized (much to my surprise) barely a century before. Someone (I couldn’t read a straight enough answer to know who, or even when) changed Saint Nicholas’ name to Father Christmas.

Father Christmas (see also San Niklaw, Papa Noël, Baba Chaghaloo and like a hundred-million others) was common folklore, a jolly and generous man who came bearing gifts to children on Christmas Eve. I reconstructed Santa’s origin as best I could by going back to when Europe absorbed various elements of Yule, the god Odin, and the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas, blending the mess together with the bishop gift-giver Saint Nicholas whom I’d read about earlier.

You would think that finding out Santa was birthed as a folktale would have convinced me he was a fiction straightaway. Instead, it did the opposite. Folktales come from somewhere, and while I couldn’t trace the modern version of Santa any further back than the 1820s, it didn’t stop there. Folktales came from myths, whispers, and things that were sort of true before they became something else.

The more I searched the sadder I grew. I tried to peer through the fog to find just one clear answer, but saw only contradictions.

According to the truth/lies/rumors, Santa lives at the North Pole. But I don’t know that that’s even possible. From what I understood after a year of research, no one lives at the North Pole. Like Antarctica, teams of scientists visit to study things, but there isn’t a single working address. The North Pole isn’t even land, really, it’s like floating sheets of ice that grow in winter and shrink in summer.

There is a semi-official Santa’s workshop near the North Pole, in the Finnish town of Rovaniemi. But it seemed kind of like an amusement park, with no real elves.

Over and over, the elves seemed to be my biggest sticking point. Even if Santa was real, they couldn’t be. I found an angry man who ranted for page after page (I had to keep clicking), saying that Santa had all the same words in his name as Satan, that they were both red with devilish laughs. He claimed that Santa was real, as were his elves, but he also swore they were demons. If Santa was real, he certainly wasn’t evil, and the elves definitely weren’t demons. They had to be made up. Like the reindeer.

Both the elves and the reindeer seemed like proof to me that the whole thing was fiction, a folktale that had grown wildly out of control as one lie stacked on another.

There were originally eight reindeer until some guy named Robert May made him up — get this — for a department store in 1939. Rudolph never existed until someone wanted to put him in a coloring book for Montgomery Ward’s annual Christmas promotion.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was invented to sell more holiday socks and underwear. The jolly old man’s legend was noticeably tweaked a few years before Rudolph with the song Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Before then, Santa had no list, at least that I could find. Since then he had supposedly been splitting the world’s children into naughty and nice, and apparently would for the rest of forever.

I’d spent a long year searching, and at the end felt more lied to than ever. I found site after site dedicated to perpetuating the lie, telling parents how to let their kids down easy, or if they preferred, giving them various ways to keep fanning their dishonest flames. I also found an equal number of sites full of people who did believe — kids with no reason not to, and grown-ups who had never stopped. And that was the oddest thing of all! There were grown-ups who had never stopped believing, claimed to still get presents, even if they lived by themselves (with or without a chimney).

I found countless versions of this same message:

Of course, he’s real! But only if you believe. Santa will disappear forever the moment you don’t. If you doubt, Santa knows, and tells your parents. He won’t leave presents anymore after that. Your parents will have to buy your presents forever. Kids stop believing in Santa because they want to be cool. But once you stop believing, you can never go back to who you were.

I guess that was what kept me believing, a fear that I could never go back if I stopped. I wanted to believe, but I wanted to believe without feeling like a fool.

I crossed the final block to Mayfair Park, nose twitching like it always did when Hollis Dawson was around.

He looked up at me as I approached the fountain where he stood surrounded by Maya Pierce, who went to our school, and a couple of other kids I didn’t know.

Hollis smirked. “Hey there, Whoville,” he said.

About JP Howle

JP Howle (or Jacob, as his friends call him) helps Sterling & Stone with admin work and other behind-the-scenes stuff. He lives in Mexico and his favorite word is chalupa.


  1. Grabbed a copy, and shared it on Twitter too.
    Review will come later 🙂

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