Derek Gentile: On presents, and why I don't believe



A few weeks ago, a commenter on our website wondered when it was I stopped believing in Santa Claus. I think the comment was on a piece I wrote on waiting for Christmas Day to dawn.

But it triggered a thought.

In truth, while I still believe in the spirit of Santa Claus, and in giving and wishing everyone a good holiday, I didn't really believe in the gift-giving, legendary one for too long.

Part of that was that many of my Christmas wishes went unfulfilled. Before someone starts being critical of my mom and dad, let me point out that my Christmas list was weird.

Real weird. One year, I wished for a baby triceratops. Or, if that was unavailable, I was happy to get a triceratops egg. I would carefully incubate it and hatch it and would take the baby triceratops to show-and-tell until it was too big to fit through the door of Commercial Street School. Sadly, Santa didn't come through.

Another year, probably the next year, when I was about 7, I wished for a bottle of specially treated gamma-ray pills so I could turn into a Hulk and back at will. (I had gleaned this wonder drug from reading Fantastic Four #26, for those keeping score.) This was a personal desire. I was pretty puny in second grade, and it would have been pretty cool, after some upperclassman pushed me around, to pop one of these gamma-ray pills and slowly grow out of my shirt. ("Let's see you try to push me around now, puny human!")

But I didn't get the pills, either.

At the same time, my analytical mind (such as it was) began pondering the logistics of a guy in a flying sled delivering presents to every kid in the world. Well, every good kid. Ridiculous. And this stuff was all free, right? Yeah. Good one.

I mean, sure, a guy could be frozen in a block of ice for decades and be revived, like Captain America. I could see that. Or a guy could take a piece of shrapnel in his heart and invent something that not only cured him, but made him super-powerful, like Iron Man. Hey, what could be simpler? That stuff, I sucked up like a vacuum cleaner.

But this whole Santa Claus gig? Crazy. What do I look like?

Too, I began noticing, around this time, an odd correlation between what my sisters and I got for Christmas and the toys advertised in the Sears Christmas catalog. It didn't take me too long to see that the gamma-ray pills and dinosaurs weren't in there, but the G.I. Joe with the kung fu grip and the special Man From U.N.C.L.E. spy suitcase were sure there!

Well, even then, you didn't have to beat me over the head. If our wish list was confined to Sears, fair enough. They had some pretty good stuff.

I also realized that it wasn't elves producing this stuff, it was my dear old dad's credit cards. So on the theory that I wanted to stretch this Santa thing out for a few more years, I cut back a little on my list for "Santa." I want to stress that I was still a greedy little snot, but I didn't want to break the bank, so to speak.

My sisters, if I remember rightly, were unaware of this financial issue until a few years later. As a result, we had Barbie dolls and toy ovens and similar knickknacks overflowing our house.

So no, I didn't believe in Santa for too long, I guess. At least not the unlimited toy machine Santa. I still believe in the spirit of helping your fellow humans, and being of good cheer these days, and letting it all wash over you. That's all I need.

Derek Gentile is an Eagle staff writer. You can tell him there is a Santa Claus by emailing


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