1990: The Year Santa Died

Sometimes in movies, holiday movies, well..Christmas movies, you are privy to stories about how and when somebody stopped believing in Santa Claus. In many cases, it involves simply not receiving that one special gift that meant everything. That was all it took. It always struck me as kind of petty. I mean, it’s not as though you discovered your dead father wedged in your chimney, in full Santa Clause garb, stinking and beginning to rot. Now that would be a good reason. Thank you Chris Columbus.

While my story doesn’t involve any grim chimney discoveries, I present to you with this: a story of true revelation, regret, and a little shame.

The year was 1990. I was seven. There was a new kid in my class, Nick. Being the new kid can go one of three ways. 1: everybody hates you, 2: everybody loves you, 3: nobody seems to care. Nick was the coolest. Everybody wanted to be his friend. He knew about the best stuff, told the best stories, and had the coolest things. One of these things were battling 3d sculpted spinning tops. Spinjas. They were almost mystical: the way he carried them in that case, how very selective he was about when he would pull them out, and very particular about who could use them. He told stories about how they don’t even make them anymore, but sometimes you can find them if you look hard enough. I wanted these Spinjas. I wanted them bad.

The first thing I did when I got home that day was ware out  my mother with stories about the new kid, and his mystical Spinjas, and how much I needed to have them, but, they were very hard to get, so we had better get them right away.

If you knew my mother, you knew the inevitable words that would come out of her mouth. No matter what it was, no matter when,  my mother would simply say, maybe for: insert whichever gifty celebration was next on the calendar. True to form, she laid out her terms, “maybe for Christmas.”

I attempted to rebut, however, as a seven year old child it is near impossible to stress the urgency of a situation such as this. As hard as I tried, I simply could not convey an argument that would convince my mother that this toy cannot wait. So rare are these, and so hard I do desire that we must run now quick to procure the precious gem of Spinja. Nothing worked. I would have to wait for Christmas.

Christmas could not come soon enough. Every day was Spinjas. Don’t forget Spinjas. Say, ma, why not picking up them Spinjas while you’re out. You know what I want? Spinjas. And thusly, I continue to wait until Christmas. Then, more bad news.

In the time that I spent waiting for Christmas to come along, another yearly tradition popped up. Elementary school secret Santa. Everybody wanted Nick to pull their name. Every boy at least. Of course, he did not pull mine. Nick pulled Ryan, Brad pulled me, I pulled Crystal. As a boy, pulling a girls’ name is the worst. What the heck do you buy a girl?

After weeks of  little gifts and treats, it came time for the big event. Crystal got silly string (see? I have no idea what to buy a girl). Brad got me some x-men trading cards (not bad). And, of course, Nick gave Ryan a Spinjas set. Not only did Nick give Ryan a Spinjas set, it came complete with one of Nick’s amazing stories.

According to Nick, he and his mom made a special trip to Toys R Us. There were no Spinjas to be found. His mother searched out an employee who informed her that they were no longer going to be carrying Spinjas, but he would check in back for any back stock. He finally came back with what he said was the last set in the store, and that he technically shouldn’t sell it to her, because it was being sent back to the manufacturer. The last set in the entire store.

That afternoon I sprung from the bus and ran home frantically to tell my mother the story. The last in the store, I said. I urged that if she hadn’t yet, she had better get out there and find some Spinjas before they were all gone.

At this point, the desire to get Spinjas was stressing out my childhood life far beyond the capacity of a seven year old. I had to do something. No more simple words, action was needed. In a fit of desperation, in hopes to quell the stress, I hatched a plan. The next time my parents were out of the house, I would snoop. Classic Christmas snoop. Maybe if I caught a peek, if I could just confirm that they had gotten the Spinjas before it was too late, it would ease my mind.

Alone in the house, I began the search. It didn’t take long to find the massive cache of gifts in the way back of my parent closet, shrouded in a giant sheet. The monstrosity was not easy to maneuver, particularly without causing the structure to be noticeably awry.

Having pushed, prodded, and manipulated the mass of gifts, one thing became clear: there was not a single Spinja in the bunch. What I did find, however, was another spinning top fighting game. Not quite as fancy, no sculpted characters, no spring loaded spinners, WWF Wrestling Tops was brandished across the box. I couldn’t help but feel a wave of disappointment in the discovery. I carefully rebuilt the pile into as close a match as I could muster to its original form, and went about my normal seven year old business.

As Christmas grew closer, I no longer mentioned Spinjas. I tried to forget about them. I thought more about this new spinning top game. It was actually very comforting that my parents went to the trouble to find something that, to their knowledge, was very similar. I was even into WWF, at the time. This wasn’t all bad. Christmas was not ruined.

Finally, Christmas morning arrived. After the normal Christmas routine of trying to get my dad up, and waiting for him to get coffee, the gift opening was under way. I got a lot of great stuff. I know because I always got a lot of great stuff. Then came the box. To Daniel, from Santa. Santa liked to call me Daniel. The shape of the box was vaguely familiar. But, kid’s toys tend to be that way. Games in particular. I opened the box. WWF Wrestling Tops. From Santa. The game that I had, just days ago, discovered while snooping in my parents room was right in my hands, and it was from Santa.

Now, I was not completely naïve. Whispers of Santa Clause being fake, a ruse perpetrated by our own parents, had made its rounds plenty during the season. However, this was hard, “in your face, kid”, evidence.

I didn’t say anything. My mother explained that Santa must have known I had wanted spinning fighters and that they, my parents, weren’t able to find them. It struck me that instead of taking the credit, they used it to fuel the illusion and keep the magic of Christmas alive for there seven year old boy.

I felt ill. Not because of the revelation, so much, but because I felt like I had betrayed my parents and taken something away from them that they found joy in. I feel a pit of guilt in my stomach just writing this right now.

I smiled in appreciation, and said something to the affirmative. The morning continued as usual.

I played with that toy a lot that year. Maybe it was because it was fun. Maybe it was because it was representative of being “in the know” about something a lot of kids weren’t. Or, maybe it was because I knew that my parents were the ones who really put all of the thought into finding something for a kid who just wanted some spinning tops that battled, and I needed them to know that I truly appreciated the gesture. Right now, I’m feeling the latter.

It was a year or two before I finally lead on that I knew the secret. Not for the sake of the gifts, but for the sake of the guilt. Even then, I didn’t tell my parents the real story.