Have you ever been blamed for an action you did not commit and had no way of proving you were innocent?

At the age of five, I faced a wrongful accusation by the real Santa Claus (or so I was told). Oh, how the injustice forever changed my view of Mr. Ho-Ho-Ho! More importantly, I learned an early lesson about how much influence one person’s allegations could have on another individual’s life.

The Meeting
I was skeptical when my mother first introduced the man with a thick head of white hair, full beard and round belly as Santa Claus to my sister and me. For one thing, he was wearing regular clothes—no red suit or black boots. For another, how could Santa show up on Main Street, right in front of my parents’ store?

Regarding his attire, no sane individual would have sported a wool suit trimmed in ermine on a steamy, summer afternoon in my South Carolina hometown. Also, if Santa’s sleigh and reindeer could circumnavigate the globe on Christmas Eve, then he could surely travel by plane on any other day of the year to any location he desired. Our mother even pointed out that we were fortunate that he’d chosen our town for his off-season residence. Her proclamation sealed the deal. If she said he was St. Nick, then he was.

The gentleman was the spitting image of the iconic figure. When he smiled and ho-ho-hoed with a twinkle in his eyes, my sister and I were not only convinced, but also smitten.

His charm, however, lasted only a few minutes. After some small talk about our wish for baby dolls, the subject turned to the question of whether we’d been naughty or nice. Of course, we were nice little girls! How could Santa think otherwise?

The Accusation
“You’ve been crossing the street without looking both ways,” Santa pronounced. The tone in his voice had shifted from merry to ominous.

Our jaws dropped.

We lived in a what was then a quiet town. In those days, if we weren’t experiencing thunderstorms, then every able-bodied youngster was playing outdoors, typically unsupervised. Taught to look out for ourselves, we were responsible for making sure no car ran over us—not the other way around. Since our house sat on a corner, the primary rule, drilled over and over, was to look both ways before crossing to a neighbor’s yard.

If we’d been caught crossing without looking, the punishment would have been too unpleasant to imagine. Besides, the fear of being killed or crippled for life sufficiently compelled us to obey. Looking both ways was second nature to us.

My sister and I, incredulous over Santa’s accusation, began defending ourselves. “No, I didn’t do that! I always look both ways!”  

Santa wasn’t convinced. Apparently, he was the witness—albeit a bad one—as well as the impartial jury and judge.

“I saw you,” he insisted, aiming to elicit our confessions.

With that, my sister and I turned on one another. “She did it!” “No, she did it!” “I didn’t do it; you did it!” “No, you did it!”

Frustrated, we looked toward our mother. Did she believe us? We did our best to convince her after bidding farewell—in my mind, good riddance—to Santa. He was no longer my hero, and my six-year-old “big” sister seemed to share that sentiment. A couple of months later, she took great pleasure in informing me that our parents were the real Santa Clauses.

The Final Warning
My sister recently reminded me that Santa followed up with a phone call, warning us again not to cross the street without looking. The conviction in his voice persuaded me to conclude that I must have committed the offense without realizing it. Eventually, I formed a memory of having done it. For a short time, I also felt as though Santa and his elves were looking over my shoulder, which made me a little paranoid while playing close to the road.

If instilling a heightened sense of caution was the goal, then it worked—temporarily. The sense of injustice lingered a long time.

Of course, I forgave Santa, who was merely aiding my mother’s attempt to keep us a little safer.

The story is not about him.

Any allegation of a transgression—whether later proven above a shadow of a doubt or never substantiated through a fair-minded investigation—is serious. We’ll more readily find grey areas in Santa’s snowy beard than in the following:

It's wrong to accuse or insinuate blame without possessing any hard, firsthand facts as well as having a legitimate reason to say anything.

My best to you,

Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady

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