Forty-two years ago this morning, I woke up to a Christmas tree that hovered over a pile of presents—and I knew from where the presents came.
That was the Christmas that I learned who Santa Claus was.
Christmas Eve, dad pulled me and my sister aside. I was six. He had something to tell us, in the darkness of the living room lit up my little more than Christmas tree lights and ambient rays from the kitchen.
Of course, there were no presents under the tree, yet. Of course, we were waiting with anxious excitement at what was going to happen that evening. Dad had something important to say. You can imagine that he knew the challenge of getting a six-year-old to pay attention when they are waiting for Santa.
He got down to my eye level. I think he placed his hands on my shoulders and gave the most earnest look, a look coming from an exceptionally earnest man.
Then, he told me: that Santa Claus was made up, a concept—that Santa was really him and mom, and grandma and grandpa. That is where the presents came from. I don't know that I said much. I guess that I nodded as he spoke, taking in the deep revelation.
He said that Christmas was something he and mom did, gave to us because of how much joy they received from seeing us open the presents each Christmas morning. He said that there was no way that he was going to let some strange man walk into the house at middle of the night, no matter what he has with him—that if an unknown man walked into his family's house, that man would have daddy to deal with.
I think I might have uttered something about how it made more sense then the fat red-suited guy story. I was relieved on several counts. First, the idea that we were visited in the middle of the night was a bit scary. Second, our chimney let to a fiery furnace, not a fireplace like all of the popular fairy tale depictions. Third, it meant that I didn't have to hold up my end of a farce.
I was also a bit proud. It was a sign that my parents had taken one of the first steps showing respect to me as a person who was growing into the real world. It was if he was saying, you are ready for this information. I was.
It was also important because it allowed him to reinforce the important story of Christmas, that what it is meant to be and is important to our family because it is the day on which we celebrate the birth and coming of Jesus, something that continually gets lost in what most of of spend our Christmas on.
There are as many ways in which parents I know do this, as many ways as there are parents. One friend said something to her 11-year-old son just this year, to which he responded that he had pretty much figured it out, and then with what I imagine was a sly and loving grin, that he didn't let on because he figured that he would get more presents if he played along. (I think this is one of the great pre-teen conspiracies.)
Another said that she never wanted to tell her kids, not because she wanted her kids so much to believe in Santa as she wanted them to believe in the possibilities and capacity of magic in the world.
Her statement made me think: is Santa an idea, belief or hope in magic? I don't know. I like to think that it is something other than a miracle like we speak of when we talk about Jesus. But the concept, at its origin if not in recent execution, comes out of the same kind of hope and love: one of giving and providing, like that of Jesus feeding the multitude with meager loaves and fishes.
There seem to be a couple of popular ways to view the feeding of the crowd that day. Some will say that Jesus made the food multiply with his superhuman touch, making much out of little with the wave of his hand. Others believe that the miracle was the phenomenon of the masses being moved to share, that Jesus compelled a kind of love not just from himself for the hungry but that he infused love in many to feed the many, share what they had and brought it to the gathering—hungry and those of means, together.
So, is the magic of Santa that there is a guy who rides in a sleigh around the world in one night leaving gifts for children, good ones (ones whose parents can afford and want them to have everything they ask for) and not as good ones (whose parents are not of such great means or who are just rotten beings and get coal in their stocking)? Or is the magic that the idea of Santa makes us want to give to our children and people we love?
What moves us? What do we believe? What is the meaning of Christmas? Do you celebrate Christmas? What is your favorite holiday, and why?
That Christmas 42 years ago was my favorite. That morning, my sister and I crept down the stairs with the same anticipation, excitement and wonder as we did before we knew the secret. Like all the years before, we slowly made our way down the stairs after asking mom and dad if it was okay for us to go look and instead of running back upstairs to our sleepy parents who had spent the night wrapping and assembling and yelling in their sleepy ears, “Mommy, daddy, come look at what Santa brought us,” we knew that they already knew and that we just needed to wait a little while so that they could find the camera before we tore through the wrapping paper.
We were big kids, on that day, and in years to come, we would have the fun of helping mom and dad make a Santa Claus Christmas for our younger siblings. We got to be Santa, just like mom and dad.
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