One of the things that my parents got unequivocally right was the whole Santa thing.
Growing up, Christmas was a religious holiday first--no presents were opened until we went to mass on Christmas morning--but it was also a magical holiday. My parents did Santa like no one's business. My brothers and I all believed in the big guy until at least 4th grade or so. When all of our friends already "knew," we still were adamant in our belief.
It was easy to believe, in part, because Santa seemed so far out of my parents' realm. When we were young, my parents didn't buy random things whenever we asked for them. It just didn't seem like they could possibly come up with the mountain of gifts that awaited us each Christmas morning. But it wasn't just about the gifts.
To start with, Santa brought our tree. For about a month before Christmas, we'd wake up each morning and rush down the steps to see if the tree had appeared yet. Then, one morning about a week or so before Christmas we would start down the steps and the scent of pine would greet us. There it would be-- the biggest, fattest, Scotch Pine you could imagine, laden with ornaments and ablaze with colorful, old fashion lights. Somehow we never noticed the trees in the backyard waiting to be put up or that my parents seemed more tired the next day. To a 5, or 6, or 7 year old, a tree magically appearing over night seemed a magical feat.
We looked forward to visiting the mall Santas. We wrote him letters that disappeared from the mantel. We got calls and letters from the jolly old elf. We read stories about Christmas-- The Gingerbears, a book about Silent Night and a little mouse, and of course, the Grinch. We watched Christmas movies for a month--each explaining a little more thoroughly just how Santa managed his magical endeavors. And each Christmas eve, before bed, we would curl up with my dad and he would read us Twas the Night Before Christmas. It's really the only time I remember him reading to us--and it was his thing to do that evening.
And then, on Christmas morning, my brothers and I would sneak down stairs before dawn and stand amazed in front of a tree overflowing with gifts. The stockings were always filled, always with some sort of theme. And it seemed impossible that my parents the ones who were so cost conscious could have even begun to produce that mountain. Where would they have hid them all? How could we have missed them wrap them?
No. Santa was real and true and the best part of the holiday. It was the anticipation, the waiting and wondering that made it all wonderful. The butterflies in your stomach if you wondered if you were really good enough.
J didn't really grow up with Santa. When he was 5 or so--maybe younger-- he asked his mom if Santa was real and she said no. That was the end of it for him. I'm surprised and happy that he's on board with wanting to give Little Man Santa. I know that those memories are some of my happiest. And I know that something changed irrevocably the first Christmas that I was on the other side of the suit and beard. Sure, I finally got to help pick out the tree. Sure, I got to stay up to the early morning putting it up. But Christmas morning lost that anticipation. The sparkle was gone because the surprise was gone. There was no doubt that Santa would come, that there would be another mountain of gifts.
I know that Christmas shouldn't be about the gifts--I don't think Santa is. I think, though, that the magic of the season when you're still young and you still believe is important. Children grow up so fast. The world, with all of its realities and wars and horrors will be theirs all too fast. Santa holds all of that at bay for a while. It's an age old tradition, and in those few magical years, our 21st century children are no different, no more modern or grown up than their 19th century counterparts. They can be innocent for a little while longer.