the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

I Believed in Santa Claus


I never thought to tell this story on the blog, mostly because it didn’t seem like anything special, but when I told a blogger about it, her response was surprising, so maybe my experience was more unique than I thought.

When I was a child, I believed in Santa Claus.

Remember, I am Jewish.  Of course, there are many Jewish parents who tell their children about Santa Claus so the children don’t feel “different.”  There are others who avoid mentioning Santa completely, worried that their kids will lose their Jewish identity to the mainstream culture.

My father loved Santa Claus. It was sort of an odd obsession.  He dressed like Santa for the children in the hospital where he worked.  He shouted with excitement when Santa appeared at the end of the Thanksgiving Day Parade.   If my father was alive today, one of the question I would love to ask him is, “What the hell was it with YOU and SANTA?”

Our family did not celebrate Christmas.  We never had a Christmas Tree.  We never made eggnog.  I never felt like I was missing out.  We always celebrated Hanukkah. But for some reason, my father loved Santa Claus, and told me that Santa really existed.

Now here is where it gets interesting, because my father was an eccentric guy.   He told me that there WAS a Santa Claus, but that he didn’t come to OUR HOME because we were Jewish.   He skipped over us like the angel of death on Passover.

“It isn’t our holiday, so Santa doesn’t come to us,”  he said.

In retrospect, this might seem like child cruelty.  Why even say there IS a Santa, if he isn’t coming to visit you?   But it never bothered me or made me upset.  It made logical sense.   It wasn’t my holiday, so this bearded guy and his reindeer didn’t bother schlepping to me!   My father was able to  create a whole different meaning for Santa Claus, making him seem mystical, but from afar, like a visiting baseball team’s cool mascot.

So, I believed in Santa, even if he didn’t show up at my home.

“What about Anthony?” I wondered, referring to the Italian Catholic kid down the hall.  “How does Santa get to him since our building doesn’t have any chimneys?”

“Santa comes through the terrace door.”


It seemed sort of odd, but I figured that Santa had to deal with a lot of modern urban obstacles, like telephone wires and satellites.

Every year, my father would drag me downtown to Macy’s 34th Street to visit the “real” Santa Claus.  We would wait in this Disneyland-sized line.  Wide-eyed children from throughout the city were eager to meet their hero.  I was more excited about going to Nathan’s for hot dogs afterwards, but I saw my father’s happiness over ME meeting Santa, so I played along.

“There he is!  Can you see him?” he said, pointing to Santa sitting on his throne.  My father’s voice had the same enthusiasm of someone feasting their eyes on the Pope at the Vatican.  “It’s Santa Claus.”

After an hour, it was my time to go face-to-face with jolly St. Nick.  I would sit on his lap, which always made me feel uncomfortable.  Why did I have to sit on his lap just to talk with him?   When Kissinger went on diplomatic “talks” he never sat on the Chinese Premier’s lap.  But I was respectful to Santa and did what he asked, because — after all — this was Santa Claus.  And I knew our meeting was a special moment, and needed to be recorded for posterity, which explained the elf with the KISS shirt taking our photo with a bright flash.

“And what would you like for Christmas, young man?”  he asked me.

“Well, nothing really.  I’m Jewish.”

“Ho Ho Ho, Jewish boys and girls also get presents from Santa.”

“No, we don’t.”

“So, what do you want for Hanukkah?”  he retorted, already trained to handle the annoying smart-aleck Jewish boys.

“I don’t know.  Whatever my parents get for me.”

“Do you want to whisper to Santa something you really really want and I will put in a good word for you?”

I leaned in.  Santa had bad breath.

“Hot Wheels Stunt Track…maybe.”

“Very good.  And were you a good boy this year?”

“Yeah,” I said, with a “Duh” tone to my voice, considering that Santa should already know this answer.  Hadn’t he been taking notes all year on who was nice and who was naughty?  I was beginning to doubt the authenticity of  this department store Santa.  Years later, I had a similar experience in Hebrew School when I questioned why God had to ask Adam if he had eaten from “The Tree of Life.”

“Why would he have to ask Adam this question?”

“He was testing him,” said grouchy Rabbi Ginsburg.

“It makes no sense.” I replied, using my young Talmudic knowledge.  “If he was God, wouldn’t he already know this?”

As I left Macy’s, I told my father that I was not impressed with this Santa Claus.  I asked my father for the truth.  Was this red-suited guy with the fake beard and bad breath really “Santa Claus?”

“No.  This Santa was a BAD one.  Even I play a better Santa Claus.  And I’m not even that fat.”

Something clicked in my head.  If my father dresses as Santa, and the guy in Macy’s is a fake, then…

“There’s no Santa Claus, is there?” I questioned. “It makes no sense.”

“Nah,” he admitted, a little sad at the myth being put to rest. “There is no Santa Claus.”

He paused for a moment, and then took one more final stand, like the soldier climbing over the hill in a suicide mission.

“But maybe… just maybe… I AM Santa Claus!”

I didn’t buy it.

“If you were Santa Claus, you wouldn’t be living in Flushing, would you?”

I stumped him.

“No,” he said.

And that was the end of me believing in Santa Claus.  It was fun while it lasted.

My father and I walked down 34th Street and went to Nathan’s for some hot dogs, then we went home, just in time for sunset and watching my mother light the Hanukkah menorah.


  1. Mad William

    Pardon me? No Santa?
    I beg to differ.

  2. Robin

    Santa had bad breath because he was drunk. 🙂

  3. Annie

    I loved this story, Neil. Your dad sounds wonderful!

  4. Janna

    What is it with Santas and bad breath? This is a great story.

  5. kenju

    You believed in him longer than I did. I found out by accident when I was 5 that he didn’t exist. I was devastated.

  6. Nat

    Every year, our community association plays host to less fortunate kids. We were short a Santa one year. So our (Jewish) president played Santa. He did a damned fine job, I must say.

  7. Nat

    (Sorry hit send too soon.)

    I wonder if it’s a Jewish male thing to want to play Santa…

  8. Neil

    Nat — Well, it is a good role. I would not want to play Santa. Too Jolly for my taste.

  9. Zombie Daddy

    When you’ve been eating brains for as long as I have, you start to be able to recognize certain thoughts based on outward action, even where others would never be able to pick them out.

    Your father wasn’t Santa Claus. But he BELIEVED in Santa Claus. But, not wanting to disappoint you in your moment of juvenile intellectual triumph, and not wanting to spoil the foundation of a brilliant future in deduction and the study of human nature, he allowed you to be right, just for a second.

    But he kept on believing. He was all about Santa. And Journey.

  10. alejna

    That was a great story. I’m glad you shared it.

    I can’t say that I remember a moment when I figured out that Santa wasn’t real. I know that at some point, I started willingly playing along with everyone else in talking about Santa. I’d get annoyed when adults would slip up in front of me and mention where they’d purchased some item from a stocking that was allegedly left by Santa.

  11. Jane

    Yeah, I’d have been uncomfortable sitting on Santa’s lap if he had his hand on my crotch like he did yours, Neil. You better show this to your therapist.

  12. headbang8

    Yes, we believe in beauty, wonder and joy. We believe in the power of ideas. But they’re for Other People. We don’t do beauty, wonder and joy, and our ideas aren’t that powerfful. We’re above that. We’re too smart. We believe in reality, more than we believe in truth.

    Except for Santa Claus. Which is maybe why you remember it?

    I grew up in that kind of family.

  13. Wesley

    This is a great story, Neil. It’s very interesting that your dad loved Santa so much even though your family was Jewish. I loved the tidbit about you meeting Santa in the mall.

    Considering this is my first comment here, I hate to make it a “disagreeing” one, but I have to say it. I believe that it is cruel for parents of any religion to tell their kids that Santa is real. It’s disgusting. Go ahead and play the Santa game. Leave out the cookies, let the presents appear under the tree. But if your kids ask you if Santa is real be honest that it is just that… a game. It’s mean to tell someone something false for several reasons. Apart from it being dishonest, it will cause a lot of devastation and anger in the future when kids find out that they’ve been lied to all this time, and after that it will be very hard for your kids to trust you again. Besides, the Santa game in its most honest and direct form is just as fun, without the hurt feelings later.

    I am really glad I found this blog… the writing is great and this post was very interesting. I am definitely subscribing.

  14. 180/360

    It’s funny you should write this because my daughter has been asking me a lot of questions about santa and the tooth fairy lately. I feel so awkward lying about it all but at the same time, I don’t want to rob her of the myth.

  15. Kate Coveny Hood

    Love this story and LOVE the picture. Pictures with Santa are so perfect now with everything well centered and digital borders to frame the moment. The Santa in this picture looks like he just wandered out of the office Christmas party (if people still had office “Christmas” parties and recruited someone to dress up as Santa).

  16. apathy lounge

    Your dad’s optimism is inspiring. That said, this post is lovely and just a little sad.

  17. Neil

    Wesley — Interesting comment. It never occurred to me that telling kids about Santa is bad. But I can see where you are coming from. But is it really that devastating to learn the truth? I used to believe all sorts of imaginary things at that age that you just grow out of through time. It’s not like your parents are really lying to you out of mean spirit. Don’t kids like that sort of imaginary stuff? Hey, I still like it!

  18. Amy Nathan

    Great story! I wrote a piece a year or two ago about my son wanting to know how Santa would know how NOT to come to our house, he thought it was really creepy actually…as he then did with the Tooth Fairy later that year.

    That’s another story of course.

    (But maybe time to revive the Santa one)

  19. Avitable

    At least your dad wasn’t dyslexic. Then you would have learned about Satan.

  20. Stacey

    I love your dad’s enthusiasm over Santa. My mother thought Santa was a big part of the magic of Christmas, so someone in our family had to dress up and deliver the presents every year on Christmas Eve. Somehow at one point I ended up having to play Santa. Now my brother does it. He’s the surliest Santa ever, but, you know, tradition.

  21. ingrid

    i loved this.

  22. Neil

    loved the picture

  23. threeboys1mommy

    Your dad is a hoot.
    On a scale of 1 to 10, this Santa gets a 9 even if he did smell. What is it with the stinky Santa’s?
    The fake Santa on Elf smells like beef and cheese.

    What would the real Santa smell like anyway?

  24. here today, gone tomorrow

    Great story! Absolutely worth the telling.

    I believed in Santa Clause wholeheartedly, and was completely overwrought when my parents told me the truth. I felt betrayed. Never looked at the old guy the same since.

  25. TorontoPearl

    Neil, you might’ve believed in Santa Clause for a little while anyway, but what’s more important is that YOUR Santa Clause believed in YOU!

    Happy Chanukah, Neil.

  26. Sunny

    Well, I’m in other religion and I know the guys in supernarket aren’t real Santas and that parents put presents under the holiday tree.

    BUT I do believe in St. Nick, as i once was given a present, which nobody could ever get or buy.

  27. vodkamom

    I loved that story. But, it made me wonder about people who DO play Santa, and have all those children sitting on their laps. I’m creeped out right now.

  28. sarah g

    I still believe in santa. And I most definitely believe in the spirit of santa. plus as a catholic; i got that whole Saint Nick thing. My parents told us each ‘santa’ was an elf to help santa out.

  29. sarah g

    also; my parents NEVER told us there wasnt a santa. I think Santa would smell like gingerbread, fresh snow, and peppermint with a touch of citrus.

  30. Sammanthia

    Your dad sounds like he was an awesome person.
    Happy holidays!

  31. Bryna

    I love that you had both holidays, even it you didn’t celebrate Christmas. What fun!
    And I think that Santa would smell like peppermint hot cocoa.

    And to Wesley – I think that kids are not jaded in any way from finding out about Santa’s “realness”. It’s kind of like another chapter into adulthood. A “where were you when” kind of moment. And the joy of bringing Santa back for my daughter is the best part. What a great tradition!

  32. amy

    lovely story Neil. xo

  33. Danny

    Fantastic story (and photo)! I love your dad’s enthusiasm and innocence, and seeing how young Neil’s literal-minded reasoning skills have not changed a bit over time. The end of the story brought tears to my eyes (but I just watched “Miracle on 34th Street” and wept when the “real” Santa at Macy’s started speaking Dutch to the little immigrant girl). That said, I would never tell my kid that Santa was real, even if I weren’t Jewish—I’d be too worried about that moment of eventual disillusionment.

  34. MCS

    Reminds me how much I miss my father as it’s clear you do, too.

  35. Lynnster

    I think it’s hilarious that your dad took you, the little Jewish kid, to see Santa every year and his enthusiasm is delightful and touching.

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, though, about Santa not coming to visit you even though you had to go see him every year. Still, this was a fabulous tale and glad you shared it!

  36. deidre

    My parents told me santa was imaginary – but we spent hours imagining him about him. I never went through any heart break learning he didn’t exist – it was all just in plain good ole fun.

    Thus, I still imagine he exists. Why Not?

  37. anymommy

    Memories!! Great story. I was another sort of Jewish kid who believed in Santa. But, my mom was a softy, he totally came to our house.

  38. Keri

    Loved the story and the photo. Thank you for sharing them.

  39. Jessica (aka @kikarose)

    I know so many Jews who have a thing for Santa. Must be the whole forbidden fruit thing. Or maybe the greener grass on the other side of the candy cane.

  40. Marsha

    Love the polaroid !!

  41. Suzanne

    Your Dad sounds like he was an absolute riot to grow up with.

    Great story.

  42. Wesley

    Bryna, temporary joy does not justify being dishonest, especially when that same joy could be had with the knowledge that the Santa game is just for fun. There is no reason you need to skip that “great tradition” of “bringing Santa back” just because you choose honesty over deception.

    Kids mimic their parents’ behaviors. By lying to them, you’re sending the message that it’s okay to lie. You lie to them now, and they’ll lie to you in the future. Prepare yourself.

    You have both misinterpreted what I said. I absolutely do not believe that telling kids about Santa is bad, as you stated. In fact, I think it’s a great way to have fun at Christmas! All I’m saying is that you need to be honest and upfront and disclose that Santa isn’t real from the very beginning. Lying is wrong, no matter whom to, no matter for what purpose, no matter if it’s in “mean spirit,” no matter if “kids like it,” because trust me, kids, like everyone else, like to have someone who they can trust and like to be told the truth. If they can’t trust you about this, how in the world are they supposed to trust you about anything else?

  43. Los Angelista

    Love this memory of yours, Neil. Absolutely love it.

    We never did Christmas in my Baha’i household growing up either, but I still believed in Santa and remember my parents telling me if I wasn’t good, I was gonna get a lump of coal… which was SO weird because, um, I wasn’t getting anything!

  44. Fancy

    Oh, Neil, your dad was awesome!

  45. Fancy

    BTW, did you get the Hot Wheels stunt track?

  46. headbang8

    Neil, I know it’s a little late, but I felt you should check out this link. Someone’s up in heaven, thinking about you!

  47. V-Grrrl

    I used to tell my Christian children that Santa was for athiests. : ) At our house there was never any doubt who provided the presents under the tree or why we went to church on Christmas.

  48. Cindy

    My parents never said there is no Santa and we have never said so to our boys, who are now almost 21 and 17. They never really questioned it much though either…we would say, people who don’t believe in Santa don’t get presents from Santa! LOL When I was still living with my parents, they would throw a very large party on Christmas Day, starting in the afternoon and usually ending around 2-3 am. We had traditional Christmas fair… plus dishes such as noodle kugel and meatless lasagna and chopped liver…most of our neighbors were Jewish when we lived in that neighborhood and everyone came to my parent’s party! I don’t remember anyone ever saying they didn’t believe in Santa Claus! Hohoho!

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