The Christmas I was six years old we lived in the bus and I remember worrying how Santa would visit us – we owned no chimney. Even then I’d begun to observe there was something goofy about this whole Santa business. But I remember the shiny, new, and lovely gift I got that year – one of only a handful, and by far the most beloved – Twink, a stuffed-animal (of sorts) from the Rainbow Brite meme. Beautiful, soft, brilliant white and friendly and chosen just for me. I can assure you I believed in magic.
Ralph and I were active in the Christian church a dozen years ago, but I gradually lost the stomach for institutional attendance – for now, at least. Today I’m an agnostic theist who finds great meaning in practices of Christianity and Buddhism and who (still) believes in Jesus’ divinity. As for parenting, our home is probably experienced as one of belief-friendly humanist ethics. So given that, of course, when it comes to this time of year it’s been no trouble to have the, you know, “There is no Santa, kids!” kind of thing going. I copped to my parents’ role in the Santa business soon after Twink and I remember feeling kind of irritated at my mom and dad’s amused smugness over the whole thing.
But over the last decade I’ve also found that children in my life, occasionally my own, like the Santa story and want to believe… Their delight in such a mystery has made me reconsider just why mysteries are good things. Observing the magical thinking, the deep compassion, the free generosity, and the in-the-moment joy of children has humbled me and at times astounded me. Santa will probably always irritate me, but I am beginning to soften. The story of the saint (and other figures like him) is not based in logic and it’s not really a two-dimensional fairytale and it’s not really about greedy consumerism, either.
So even my curmudgeony ass-heart melted a bit when I read this story about the origins of NORAD and their tracking of Santa Claus (the audio is a brief and lovely listen, too), specifically this bit:
“Since that time, NORAD men, women, family and friends have selflessly volunteered their time to personally respond to phone calls and emails from children all around the world. In addition, we now track Santa using the internet. Millions of people who want to know Santaâ€™s whereabouts now visit the NORAD Tracks Santa website.”
This little story brought my inner-Scrooge up short. I’m often saddened about how many adults are deep-down terrified of children and quite limited in their competence and compassion regarding children’s needs. And here this morning, reading this article, I’m reflecting that many grownups are still trying to hold or maybe even reclaim a tender heart.
Ralph and I are fortunate in that our children truly want for nothing material; we have food and clothes and a warm home and all the security one could hope for. I know these are temporary conditions, but corporeal circumstances of relative ease allow us the gift of one another, if we are wise enough to allow that experience. It is true our children want for nothing, but all children need nurture; they are built for it and designed for it and seek it out as instinctively as a new kitten crawls into one’s sweater for something more than just warmth and a heartbeat. This morning I feel entirely grateful for my children because they have taught me so much about the value of compassion and tenderness, practices many in this hardened world are too frightened to commit to.
Behind me my kids sleep in a tangle of arms and legs and weighted down by the massive furry paperweight of kitty Harris; the lights are low and the stockings stuffed and Ralph folds laundry and we await my mother’s arrival. I know under our yuletide tree there will be gifts for me chosen by family and friends; an expression of love in the language of giving. I look forward to these wonderful comforts; more so even I look forward to the experience of my children and the magic they have all through their very Beings.
Merry Christmas Hoga-Family:)
Merry Christmas! Munchkin Number 2 grabbed my arms, looked straight in my face today, and said, “Do you believe in Santa?” after Munchkin Number 1 said, “Santa is so silly.” And I said, “Yes. I do. He came to my house last night.” And she snuggled in and said, “I do, too.” Because the gift of her love is unexplainable and that is the gift of Santa to me. Unconditional love.
Sappy, but it’s how I see it. And I love those children fiercely. And if she wants to hang onto Santa, I’m going to hang onto him with her.
I had the same experience with the belief in Santa thing at age 8 — it was 1984, year of the Cabbage Patch Kid (at my school) and I was beginning not to believe. But that year, it was supposed to be super difficult to get a CPK — there were news articles about how the stores were sold out and no one could get one, they were being sold on the black market for umpteen million bucks, etc.
And then I got one. My skepticism was abated for another 4-5 months, after which my mom admitted that she had purchased it back in August or something after a friend’s mom had told her that it was the thing to get (while shopping in, yes, Huntington Beach).
I’ve been telling A that Santa was wily and could enter through the sliding glass door in back (since we also have no chimney) AND since we were at my mom’s house and my mom made a big deal about His Coming to her place (before Xmas, when we would be back at home) that Santa had a route, like the garbage collectors, and hit my mom’s neighborhood earlier than ours. Oh, and since I didn’t have the wherewithal to get to a mall and wait in line to talk to homeboy, I told her it was ok, because Santa and I were online friends and we had been emailing.
She’s four, and I think she is starting to be suspicious, so I don’t know how long the charade will last. Not sure how I feel about keeping it up to the bitter end, either, for some of the same reasons you stated at the beginning (that annoyance at everyone else’s smugness when I finally did get it).
I am loving reading your comments ladies… I love hearing how other people interact with kiddos during this time – and how they themselves remember their childhoods. Thank you.
It’s hard to keep the Santa-thing going sometimes. But I think you’re right that kids really do want to believe. Maeve has struggled ever since the LDS neighbor kid told her that there was no Santa. She was 6, I think. Maybe 5. Anyway, I told her that Santa didn’t come to people who didn’t believe in him, so naturally he didn’t get presents from Santa, but that as long as she believed in Santa he would bring her presents. This year she was finding it difficult to still believe, but she still set out cookies and milk and wrote a note for Santa. I know that one day she’ll stop believing but I think that part of what makes Santa real is the excitement that parents have for their kids on Christmas morning when they open presents from Santa. Just watching my kids’ reactions is one of the biggest Christmas gifts I get.
As an aside, my Dad was from Amsterdam and there they celebrate Sinterklaas avond on December 5th. He continued this tradition when we were kids – to the point that my mom made a costume and had a family friend dress up as Sinterklaas and come to our house to distribute presents provided by my parents. For years we believed he really visited us. My mom didn’t even tell me who it was until this past April. I have continued this tradition with my kids, though it’s harder to get the Dutch foods and candies I need to celebrate, since I have to get them online rather than go across town to the Dutch store the way my father did. Still, I love to see the kids looking out the window to see if Sinterklaas is coming down the street and listen to them sing the carols.
I think that part of what makes Santa real is the excitement that parents have for their kids on Christmas morning when they open presents from Santa. Just watching my kidsâ€™ reactions is one of the biggest Christmas gifts I get.
And grandparents! My mom has enough Christmas excitement to last us all! This year she showed up and we woke the kids early. Which was kind of a mistake really, but oh well. We still had a lovely Christmas.
I’ve heard a lot about Sinterklaas this year. Also first year I heard about KRAMPUS. We humans are a weird bunch!