At the age when a kid starts to wonder if the whole Santa thing is real, my sister and I used to try and catch him. From age 6 until 10 on December 25th we’d wake up to the Pennsylvania winter cold, climb out from under half a foot of blankets and quilts to sit shivering at the top of our wooden staircase in the dark. My parents had perfect pitch when it came to listening to our steps on the stairs as we waited for signs of the chimney loving Arctic-intruder at 3:30 in the morning. “Back on the first step,” Mom would whisper as she heard the creak of Step Two turn into the squeak of Step Three. We’d jump back and sit. At the top of the stairs, our line of sight was just out of range from the living room and Christmas tree. Finally, around 6 am, Mom and Dad would stop pretending they were asleep and follow us down the stairs as we raced into the confusing wonder of “did-Santa-really deliver all this stuff without making a sound?”
This year, as the father of a first-grader, I helped my son send his first letter to Santa. He drew a picture and listed out what he wanted, wrote “#1 North Pole” on the front and put a stamp in the corner. After sealing it he asked me if I could write a question on the front of the letter. Sure I said, what do you want to ask? I figured it would be something simple like how will you get into our house without a chimney? Or, how do you fit all those toys in your sleigh? He asked: “Are there penguins at the North Pole?” As the 6-year-old resident expert on aquatic life, he knows penguins are southern hemisphere creatures. Smart, I thought. Smarter than I ever was; he’s trying to set up Santa.
I’m not quite sure what this has to do with fruit. I’d be lying if I said that, as a kid, I ever left a holiday navel orange on a plate for the bearded man in red. I guess I’m just reminded of those phases we all go through when trying to uncover something new a sort of tentative belief shrouded in cautious skepticism that is summed up best sometimes by a 6-year-old who’s wondering what it’s all about.