My parents did a good job with the Truth About Santa.

(Spoiler alert for those reading who haven’t had The Santa Talk. Although if you’re that young, I am not sure you should be reading my column.)

I don’t remember if it was Christmas Eve, or a few days before Christmas, but they sat at the end of the bed when I was 10 and explained that there was not a man who came down the chimney to leave presents in our stockings. (I had mostly figured that part out; I read a lot of books.)

But, my mom said, the spirit of Santa Claus – now, that was very real indeed. And the spirit of Santa, the loving and the giving and the spreading of joy, that went on, no matter how old you got. And I’m lucky enough to have a sister who is eight years younger than I am, so I got to spend most of my teenage years watching a small child shriek with delight at the presents that suddenly appeared on Christmas morning where none had been the night before. And I got to be part of the happy little secret that it wasn’t actually elves who assembled the Barbie dream house the night before, but it may as well have been.

Last year, for our first Christmas without my dad, we took the surprise life insurance payout and decided to go to Hawaii. No decorations, small gifts, an Airbnb with next-door chickens that kept wandering on to the lawn. Now, I saw all the suitcases we packed. (In fact, I helped.) We all had a few small wrapped gifts for one another tucked away, but luggage is expensive. We all kept gifts light and we certainly didn’t bring our stockings, which are bulky and topped with teddy bears. (My brother and I have had our stockings since we were, respectively, 1 and 3 years old. Our sister’s stocking – along with her – arrived years later and is much more stylish.)

But when we woke up, our stockings (which, last we saw, were in an attic in Maine) were draped over the armchairs in the living room, stuffed with presents that nobody had brought with them. I asked Mom how she’d done it. She told me that obviously it was Santa. After all, his sleigh can fly, so there’s no reason he can’t get to Hawaii. Of course. Silly me.

Christmas 2017 was rough, but the utter surprise of seeing those gifts appear out of nowhere sent a bolt of joy right through my fog of grief. That’s the magic of Santa Claus.

My father’s favorite Christmas carol was “Silver Bells.” His second-favorite Christmas movie was “White Christmas.” (His first favorite was “Die Hard,” obviously.) And I worry that this year will be a “Blue Christmas.” We don’t have money to go to Hawaii this year, so we’re at home, preparing for the polar vortex, in the house that is stuffed to the brim with memories of a man who is now in a jar on the mantelpiece.

Dad won’t get up early to set the fire and put on Christmas music. I won’t get to eat his blueberry muffins with crunchy sugar crystals on the top. There will be no rum in my eggnog.

But we’ll have family and friends over for a Christmas dinner. There will be laughter. Someone will probably bring a guitar. My mom will make her holiday turnips (they’re really good, I swear). Things will be different, but the spirit will be the same as it’s always been.

After all, it’s the spirit that has survived for a thousand years; the spirit known as Saint Nicholas of Myra, or Saint Nick; Santa Claus and Father Christmas; Père Noël and Sinterklaas. Just because he’s not there doesn’t mean he’s not real.

Mele Kalikimaka, Maine.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

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Twitter: mainemillennial