Secret Santa

Today’s post marks the fourth in a series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with the harsh reality of life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.


I grew up in a close knit family, complete with a foundation of traditional values. Holidays were a particularly special time to revel in our unity within the household as well as our community. My parents would always throw a huge Christmas Eve party & every relative & close family friend & community member would make an appearance. This would go on from about 3pm till about 11pm at which time we would all abide by the Catholic tradition of attending Midnight Mass. Once we all grew up & moved away, however, these holiday gatherings became less frequent. During one such holiday season, however, my siblings & I were all able to secure time off at the same time & we somehow managed to spend Christmas eve under our parent’s roof just like old times. It should have been a happy time, but for me, it had occurred after the Fall of Lorraine & I was off in a corner by myself moping. My sister, without even looking up from her book, suddenly stated: “She’s just a girl.”

I questioned her & she clarified. “Lorraine is just a girl. No matter what else you think of her. She’s young & her world view isn’t even developed yet; it’s not even based on real world experience, just her parent’s ideas more than anything.” I didn’t respond. I disagreed entirely with my sister’s assessment but I didn’t feel like engaging in a conflict on Christmas Eve especially over a topic I had already made by mind up about. No one had to understand why she mattered so much to me. No one had to approve of the pain I felt; it was real regardless. And it didn’t matter why she mattered so much; just that she did. I sunk deeper into my reflective shell. The crackling of the logs in the fireplace made it easier to escape into the deep recesses of my memories. I would take a trip into the past in order to understand the present.

When I was a kid, Christmas was such a special season of joy & anticipation. School was about to be out. Family would be visiting from out of town. We would decorate the house & presents with my name on them would appear daily underneath the Christmas tree. Yes, this sounds a bit selfish but this is a childhood memory, after all. Even if my sentiments aren’t exactly philanthropic, they are at least–pure. I used to spend my evenings after school, back in the days when I didn’t have any homework to do yet, placing all my gifts in one area & then examining the boxes. I’d usually use a Goldilocks technique–pick the ones not too small or not too big & that were neatly wrapped in a tight square or rectangle. I’d filter two or three of these “just right” sized gifts & play the guessing game. What could it be? I’d pick them up & assess the weight. I’d shake them & listen for any excessive roll internally. I’d hold them close to my ear to see if the gift would whisper a hint to ease my childish curiosity. I loved the smell of the wrapping paper & Scotch tape especially after the gifts had been under the tree for a few days because the tape would often have pine needles stuck to it, adding an additional dimension to the holiday-themed sensory euphoria. On Christmas morning, when I finally opened the gift, I found myself bewildered to discover that the excitement of owning that highly sought after toy failed to linger as long as the anticipation of yearning for it. By the time night fell over Christmas day, although I was happy to have the toy I wanted–I was sad to see the gift boxes & wrapping paper thrown away. It was as if the presentation of a gift from someone who cared about me mattered more than the gift itself.

Well, one Christmas when I was older, we did a Secret Santa gift exchange at work. This quiet, brown-eyed girl from Accounting who I had always admired drew my name. I know the point of a Secret Santa is to conceal the identity of the gift giver, but I tend to be resourceful at solving puzzles. I asked around, made some inferences, caught some breaks, & boom! I discovered who drew my name. She placed a beautiful package under our company tree. It was long with a silver base color but covered with a pattern of green Christmas trees all over. In certain areas, you’d see prominent red ribbons available; & sitting atop the box, as if a crown, rested a beautiful red ribbon. For 12 days (You know, like “The 12 Days of Christmas”?) I wondered what hidden treasure lay inside. When I finally opened it up, I was stunned to find it empty except for a small piece of paper containing a short note that read: “I didn’t know what to get you, so I decided on the gift of excitement.” And you know what? Because of who this note came from, I wasn’t disappointed. I had been excited leading up to the moment I opened the box & peered inside. And for some strange reason, the excitement of receiving that special toy that would often wear off so quickly during my childhood seemed to linger longer this time around. All she gave me was a stupid piece of paper; but my reaction to that gift is what made it stick for so long.

When I tell people close to me the story of Lorraine & how I was almost friends with this girl–the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen, the sweetest girl I will ever meet–they laugh. “Why are you still thinking about her?” they’d ask. “You two were never even together. How could you love someone you were never even really friends with?” They’d chide & ridicule relentlessly, trying to change my mind about how I should feel about my experience. I used to try to convince them that they were the ones who were blind not to see it, but I stopped. I don’t have to convince anyone else that she’s worth pining over or that the pain is real or that the feelings I had for her before The Fall were real. All I have to do is think back to the gift of my Secret Santa. It doesn’t matter that my story with Lorraine didn’t end the way it was supposed to. It doesn’t matter that all anyone remembers about my Secret Santa is that I received an empty box. Lorraine gave me the gift of excitement. She made waking up on cold, winter mornings fun for this life-long night owl. She gave me a reason to smile while I forced myself into a cold shower, half-asleep or as I sat in a cold snow-covered car waiting for it to thaw out. She made the painful ritual of awakening on a cold, cheerless workday happy because I burned with the anticipation of seeing her again, even for a few minutes. Lorraine, like my Secret Santa, gave me the gift of excitement . . . and she never even had to wrap it. I don’t care if no one else will ever understand it; but Lorraine’s gift to me never faded away into darkness the way Christmas Day would fade into Christmas Night. Even now, when I think of her, my heart leaps. The excitement she brought to my life remains in it, even if she herself is gone from it. I wish I could tell her “Thank you, Lorraine; my lifelong Secret Santa.”

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