I was eight or nine years old, my brother two years younger and my sister two years younger still. We were all loyal believers of Santa Claus and his superpowers. In Chile, where we grew up, Christmas happens during the summer, no snow and pine trees for us. In December, people are dripping with sweat as they tend to their last-minute Christmas shopping, even Santa under his big, red suit.
There we were, the three of us and my grandfather under the burning sun, planning our annual talk to Santa. The children line up behind his sled to wait for a moment to speak to Saint Nick himself, where he asks if we’ve been naughty or nice. My brother asks my grandad why Santa must sit next to the door of the only shopping mall of the area and he answers something like “never you mind, he is everywhere”.
It’s my sister turn, and she takes a seat on Santa’s lap. She starts crying and my grandpa removes her from her pew – my brother and I take her place, each on one of his legs. My brother notices that Santa was speaking strangely, and he was wearing a big ring on his cardinal finger, like the ones American Football players wear. He finishes his talk – my brother asks for a Batman costume and I beg for a bike. We jump to the floor but Santa grabs hold of us and tries to force us to kiss his ring. My grandfather jumps in and pulls us away.
In the car I asked him what that was all about. He said, “Santa was drunk.” “What, how can Santa be drunk?” Asks my brother. My sister cries after hearing this. “Santa doesn’t exist, kids”, he tells us. “He’s just an actor – a drunk one at that!”
Silence flooded the car. My brother starts to cry now, even hiccoughing, perhaps out of shock. It all became clear to me, at least. How could one man be in everyone’s house at the same time in one night? It made no sense! I put it all together, the presents my mum used to hide in her closet… also Santa was supposed to be a good person, and good people never got drunk!
I knew what we smelled on Santa that afternoon in December was the particular aroma of wine, lots of it might I add. I could tell because I had smelled it long before that day and many times after. The smell of fermented grapes that I can imagine a bored Santa sipped between each kid that sat on his lap – tired of his fake double-life as ‘Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick’ and spending a season lying to children.
That night, after all the adults moved to the dining room, my brother and I drank all the leftover Pisco Sours. My brother slept until the next morning.I stayed up until the presents were being opened. Surprise, surprise, no bike under the tree. Instead I got a box of Lego. That night we sang carols and prayed to Jesus’ manger. I didn’t wait for Santa anymore, instead I asked my father, “when can I start drinking wine?” He didn’t answer. Well, at least Santa had a good taste in drinks.