Christmas Eve was the absolute best night of the year as a child. We would make “Reindeer Food” (granola and glitter, lots of glitter), Santa’s Cookies (Reese’s peanut butter cups in sugar cookies), and write our letters to the jolly, old man himself. We would tuck the letters into stockings that were hand embroidered with each of our names so that Santa wouldn’t forget that mine was the red one. There was this anticipation that built with each Santa-welcoming-task and an excitement that only the prospect of magic could induce. For me, that was it: Santa was magic. He was proof that the unseen was real, that no little boy or girl would go without a Christmas present, and that someone knew my heart’s desires. On Christmas morning the cookies were gone, presents in his workshop’s signature gift wrap had been placed under the tree, and there was a letter from Santa talking about how much he loved coming to our home and how he had picked out each gift specifically for my two younger sisters and me.
Around the age of six though, I started to have my doubts. Always a cynic, I was far too skeptical and logical at a young age. Even as a small child I could no longer rationalize the existence of Santa. There were children at school that didn’t believe in Santa because he didn’t come to their home. When I confronted my mom, she told me that once you stopped believing in Santa, he stopped bringing you presents. That satiated my curiosity for another year or so, but there was this lingering fear that the man who brought my family gifts on Christmas morning wasn’t generous enough to give to the others in my school, and without generosity and kindness there was no Santa. So I did what any reasonable elementary school kid would do, pulled out my dad’s legal pad and made a pros and cons list—Santa lost. I methodically determined he was not real, and I could not, would not believe in him ever again. Then I cried. For a week I cried myself to sleep not wanting to tell my parents that I knew they had been the ones to put the presents under the tree. It broke my heart knowing that my mom had put so much effort into buying different wrapping papers, bows and even ornaments so she wouldn’t leave her handwriting on Santa’s packages, and that my dad had been the one writing Santa’s yearly letter. I knew they wanted me to believe, but I had discovered the truth and claimed I’d never again believe in jolly old Saint Nicolas. When I finally told my mom, she wasn’t upset, sad or angry. She hugged me and told me that of course Santa was real, he just didn’t have a white beard or a red suit. She was Santa and Dad was Santa, and the magic was still there because we were a family that loved one another. She also told me I better keep “believing” if I wanted to see an extra few presents under our tree.
Flash forward a few years, my sisters and I are now older and all “believers” in Santa rather than simply believers. However that Christmas, my mom presented us with an interesting opportunity—the chance to be Santa. She is a first and second grade teacher in a school that has many children living in poverty. That year, we scoured the aisles of Toys “R” Us, Target, and Macy’s looking for Legos, coats, books, Barbies, shoes, and paint. We wrapped each present in a special wrapping paper, and Mom and I drove around to her student’s houses late at night delivering the goodies to softly crying moms and dads. My mom didn’t come in a sleigh, and she had no use for the glittery granola that littered the front yards, but she was Santa. That year, for the first time in many years, I truly believed. Santa isn’t one person, and he doesn’t actually come down the chimney or eat a million cookies in one evening. But Santa is magic. Santa is a belief in the good that can be. Santa is kindness, generosity, joy, and love.
One of my dearest friends in the world has no child of her own, but spent the entire Christmas season shopping for an acquaintance’s two children whose father was incarcerated. She bought them essentials like warm clothes and school supplies, but also an Xbox and many other toys. When the boys saw her a few months later, they were still talking about their Christmas. They told her all about what Santa had left under the tree and that they were being “real good” so Santa would come back again next Christmas Eve. This woman is a Casting Associate to most people, but for two little boys, she is Santa.
I believe in Santa. And I believe that we are called to be Santa to others. Not necessarily with game consoles and dolls, but in the little things. In making sure the homeless have blankets this winter, that school children have pencils and markers, that soldiers have magazines and personal cards, and that the people in our lives feel honored and known. I wanted a Santa who knew the desires of my heart, so I try to take extra time around the holidays to ignore the hustle and truly listen to others. I believed in Santa because I felt that he was an equalizing force, so I want to help all children have a present to open on Christmas morning. And I wanted proof that what was unseen could still be real, and I firmly believe that love does not need to be seen in order to be felt. So love others generously. Go be the Santa this Holiday season.
Until next time,