When I was growing up, Santa Claus played an important part in my family’s Christmas tradition. My parents were really big on the magic of the season, and they went to pretty elaborate lengths to make the holiday extra special for my two sisters and me. This included a personal visit from the big man himself.
Each year after the early children’s Christmas Eve service at church, my parents would feed us a light meal, make sure we put on our brand new pajamas, and put us to bed. This was all done before 8:00 pm. To say it was hard to fall asleep would be an understatement, we were so excited. Santa himself was going to leave presents under our tree in just a few hours! My mom would remind us that the sooner we fell asleep, the sooner Santa would come. It was difficult but each year we managed to do it.
A few hours later, in the middle of the night, she would come into our rooms and wake us up from a deep sleep telling us to hurry up because Santa was getting ready to leave, and we didn’t want to miss him. She would tell us to make sure to listen to the sounds of the reindeer on the roof. (It was my dad, throwing pebbles and small rocks from the back yard. These people did not fool around.) We could hear Santa’s deep voice booming from downstairs wishing us a Merry Christmas.
With our eyes barely open, we would stumble down the stairs, nervously clinging to our mom as Santa would greet us at the bottom of the stairs by name, tell us how good we were that year and hand us each a present. Then he would leave to finish delivering his presents, and we would start unwrapping our gifts, still slightly stunned and awestruck.
In all the excitement, we didn’t realize that my dad was missing until he walked in the door. Each year, he had to rush to the 24 hour convenience store to buy ice because apparently that was something we were always running low on at Christmas. When was the man going to learn he needed to stock up so he didn’t miss Santa?
When I was 8 years old, some friends and classmates started saying that there was no such thing as Santa. They had the crazy idea it was really our parents who bought us the gifts. I decided to let my mom know what these poor misguided souls were saying. I then asked her to tell me if there really, really was a Santa. I had to put this foolishness to rest.
I was 99.9% sure that my mother was going to say that of course there was. I mean we did see him every year. How could it not be true?
My mom very gently and lovingly told me that although Santa was the spirit of Christmas, the man in the red suit that lives in the North Pole was just a fun story. She then asked me to never tell my younger sisters or any of the other kids our family knew because she believed every child should decide on their own when they were ready to move on and know the truth about Santa. It was a promise I have kept all these years.
Until this year.
My youngest is 10, and though I have been dreading the day he formally crossed to the nonbeliever side of the street, I have been concerned that now that he is in the fifth grade, other children might make fun of him if he was to say something that indicated he still believed. I had my suspicions that he knew more than he was letting on, but I wasn’t sure. And he didn’t seem to be in any rush to say anything.
The other day as we were talking about the holiday and how we get to see Santa each Christmas Eve. (My father has been reprising his role for 16 years now — ever since his first grandchild, my oldest son, began celebrating Christmas in earnest.) I gently mentioned that Santa is really the spirit of the season. There really wasn’t a man who lived in the North Pole with elves.
“Oh, OK. I know that.”
Well, that was easy. I then remembered to tell him not to ever tell anyone else. Especially his two cousins, who at 7 and 5 still believe. I didn’t want him to blow my father’s cover.
“Mom, I know Santa is grandpa.”
“Oh, you do?”
“Well do me a favor and don’t say anything to your cousins.”
“I won’t. When will dinner be ready? I’m hungry.”
It then dawned on me that for my children, Santa would always be real. They see him every Christmas Eve, just like I did. He didn’t live in the North Pole with Mrs. Claus. And that was fine. For them he was their grandfather who took the time, each year to dress up and the grandmother who helped him get ready so that their Christmas could be a little more special. My mother was right, Santa is the spirit of giving, and what better legacy to leave your children and grandchildren with.