I tear up when I think of Santa. There was the game, yes, in which I knew that he was busy and so kind helpers dressed up as him in the malls, and I knew that he needed the parents to pitch in funds to pay the elves, or buy the things his elves couldn't make (a story of Santa from my grandfather's life, he grew up in the Depression, brought those points to me). But there was the "reality" that really sunk home to my young heart.
When I was very young, maybe 4 or so, a man with a real beard and a real-looking Santa suit (something that looked comfortably worn, not something a mall Santa wears for pictures) came to my house late on Christmas Eve-Eve (the 23rd). He saw me looking at him, I should have been in bed already but wasn't; gave me an orange and told me I'd best go to bed on time the next night! To this day my parents don't know who that guy "really" was, our neighbors didn't have young kids and he didn't visit any of them, but I was convinced for years he was the real thing.
Then there was the year after the first adoption. I was 9 years old. We had done several fund-raisers that year and my parents had taken on some substantial debt. It was the boys' first Christmas, we were determined to make it good but didn't have many funds. Lots of crafts and homemade stuff, in the days leading up to the day. My new brothers were just happy with the huge box of oranges; but my sisters and I knew from past years about all the wrapped gifts and surprises.
A few nights before the Big Night there "arose such a clatter" my Dad sprang to the door and...there were 2 huge black bags of brightly colored packages. He and Mom kept it quiet until Christmas morning when we went into the living room and there was an unexpected pile of presents. Excitement abounded. My parents still don't know who was our Santa that year, either...
After that Christmas and before I was 10 my mom had the talk with me. This went through everything from puberty to the truth of Santa Clause. It was a big night, lots of heavy facts to digest. I did feel a bit miffed that I had defended Santa to non-believing friends and it turned out they were somewhat right, but I didn't feel my parents were liars for it. That could have to do with my mom's explanation.
The tradition of Santa Claus, approximately as told by my mother:
Long ago there was a man named Nicholaus. His parents died and left him money, but he was sad without family of his own. He traveled and became learned, and realized a lot of people didn't have the advantages he did. He began to do things that were small to him, and big to those he gave to. The church named him a saint because of the miracles he performed in people's lives, hence the name Saint Nicholaus. "Santa" means "Saint" in Spanish, and eventually people shortened his name from Nicholaus to Claus.
Anyway, eventually he died, as all men die. But his legacy, those he'd helped without hope of repayment, began to pass on the story and help others. Those others would find out and pass the story on to others.
Now, today, parents give to their children in secret, using the saint's name to keep his memory alive. Some people have the chance to give to others secretly, by taking a name off an angel tree at the store, or contributing to another charity, or giving directly to someone whom we know needs help, as the saint did in his life. And this is his legacy, that it is better to give than to receive, even if others never find out that you were the giver.