(Whatever your stance on the Santa Claus legend, and whether you maintain said legend in some way, shape and form for your children, this article from a young mother offers a perspective on what Santa might mean not only for young people, but for all of us, just in time for Christmas. Editor)
Yesterday was not my finest parenting moment. Our youngest daughter, who is 11, told me that she doesn’t believe in Santa. This is understandable given her age, and actually, being the most inquisitive of our three kids, surprising it has taken this long for her to admit. But it was the aftermath that makes me pause now and reflect on today’s readings.
Her admittance began because she got on our desktop and looked through my email (offense #1). She was searching for a response from a group for which she was hoping to volunteer, but instead steered her way into my sent box and noticed an email with the subject “Santa” that I sent to a friend. The attachment of this letter contained the best answer to a child’s question about the existence of Santa I’ve ever seen. I don’t know the original author and I would love to credit whomever came up with this.
There was a man. Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra was born in 326 and was known for his philanthropy. In fact, that man died a long time ago.
Before you can know the truth, you need to understand that you are now part of a special trust to let no one know the truth until they were ready.
“Santa Claus is real.”
Do you want to know how I know he’s real? I’ve seen him. Santa Claus is your folks, going out to get the presents and hiding them under the tree for you. Santa Claus is the guy in the mall in the red suit talking to children. Santa Claus is the person who donates to “Toys for Tots”. Santa Claus is EVERYONE who works to uphold his legend for children.
. . . and now you are Santa Claus too.
She opened the attachment and read it (offense #2). Though the sentiment of this is heartwarming and true, it’s the delivery of it to our children that makes this special. By just reading it on a page – without allowing us to embellish it with the “magic of Christmas” – it only confirmed for her what her friends at school had been saying; Santa (the man in the red suit) isn’t real.
We tried to soften this message. We sat down with her and our older daughter (15) and shared our perspective; to us Santa is real. Santa is any person who gives of themselves without the acknowledgement. As I explain to my kids, Santa is the parent that doesn’t get “credit” for giving a wonderful gift. Santa is the parishioner that takes a gift tag on the giving tree at church and donates a specific item to someone who they will never meet. Santa is every person who collects Toys for Tots, or money for Salvation Army. It’s about the giving, not the receiving.
There is an innocence that can still exist, a mystery that can hang on, a magic that can continue. And with that magic, comes hope . . . hope for good things . . . hope for presents . . . hope for fun times . . . hope for surprises.
A few years ago, we received a card around Easter. There was a return address and a note but no signature. Enclosed was a Visa gift card in the amount of $200. I tried desperately to figure out who sent this generous gift. In the end, I never did. The gift card was a treat and allowed us to purchase a few things we wouldn’t have otherwise. I hold on to the card in the hopes that someday the sender will be revealed, but deep down I kind of hope that I never found out.
Later in the evening, we all went Christmas shopping and I found an opportunity to pick up a gift without the rest of the family knowing. When we got home later that night I was careful to hide the package among the others. As we made our way upstairs, I handed her the presents she purchased for her sister and proceeded to my room in order to hide the gift I had bought. Just as I began to move things around to access my hiding spot, she opened the door and looked in. She saw the bag and where I was about to place it and began to ask questions again. “What did you buy at the store?” I was tired and frustrated, and I lost it.
The yelling that ensued laid on a guilt trip better than any my Italian mother in law could dish out. I yelled about coming into my room without knocking. I yelled about not wanting to surprise her or anyone else. I yelled that nothing would be wrapped this Christmas and there would just be stuff under the tree, or that maybe I won’t even wait until Christmas to give her anything I buy her. I yelled about Christmas being ruined because I believe in the magic of Christmas, and she has taken that away from me. And then, my husband’s favorite line of the night came out of my mouth. “Don’t YOU care about the (insert expletive) magic of Christmas?”
He didn’t say it at the time – and good thing because I wouldn’t have found it funny, but as he retold the story the next morning I was able to see the humor in my rant. I suppose we all have those moments that make us shake our heads in disbelief. Really, in the end, I was just sad.
I know others think I’m crazy. They would be right. I want my children to believe in the magic of Christmas, and the hope that the birth of Christ promises. I want them to see good in the world and know that they play a part in that goodness. As I attended mass on Sunday morning, I read the reflection in the missile, “St. Paul tells his beloved Philippians – and us – to put on love to see what really matters and so be ready when Christ returns and takes us into the heavenly banquet.”
Put on Love.
With Christmas only two days away, it is reasonable that many parents are having similar conversations with their inquisitive and intelligent children. My friend, Lisa, is no different. She asked me how old our kids were when we talked to them about Santa. Through a lengthy conversation, I learned that her situation is a bit different. Her children are bi-racial and their father doesn’t want his children believing in this commercialized “white” Santa that comes into people’s houses. I can’t say that I blame him. A Dominican friend of mine had a similar sentiment. How do you sell that image? Why should you?
Our conversation was so great and I was able to share my thoughts of Santa being someone who gives without receiving.
Then the conversation turned to seeking examples of folks of all walks of life who have given without acknowledgement. And what better example to begin with but Jesus himself? He didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped, “but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:7. Jesus, like Santa, wasn’t some “white” guy who was just a ‘good’ person. He came to us in the humblest of ways. As a refugee in a foreign land, looking probably much like the Syrian people who seek refuge now. He came to give His life to us, for us. The ultimate gift without acknowledgement.
The question is how do I teach the depth of this message to my daughter, to all my children? I suppose I need to do some inner searching. I need to “put on Love”, as St. Paul says, to see what really matters. Only when I recognize my limitations and transgressions will I be able to share Christ’s gift with them. I guess I have a lot of work to do so I can be Santa too.
Jennifer DeNisco, M.Ed. is an urban high school English teacher. She and her husband, Ralph, were part of the core group of parents that created their parish youth group which most recently volunteered at Boston’s Christmas in the Cityhttp://christmasinthecity.org/ which provides a holiday meal and fun filled day for children living in homeless shelters. Jen & Ralph have three children, ages 17,15, &12.