Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa: real or not?

I had a typical "Santa" upbringing, I think. My parents would shoo us off to bed on Christmas Eve telling us if we didn't go to sleep, Santa couldn't come. We would all get in our pajamas and take a drive up in Indian Hills to see all the fancy Christmas lights on the big houses, and generally see at least one Santa arriving at someones house. Really. As in, an actual person, dressed in the red suit, carrying a big sack, knocking on the front door and booming out "Merry Christmas". For real. I even recall one that was up on the roof - we stopped the car and watched that together. (Them rich folks will do anything, it seems.) The drive was intended to put the younger kids to sleep, as well to get the entire family together for one more relaxing Christmas activity. The Santa sitings were an unexpected bonus.
As we got older, we would graduate to Christmas Eve helpers (another reason a large family is a good thing - helping to make that Christmas magic for my younger siblings is something I remember fondly). I don't remember ever having that moment of disappointment, or thinking my parents had been lying to me.
I'm not saying I believe there's some guy that lives at the North Pole making toys all year. Because that's just ridiculous. My personal concept of Santa includes the idea that he's a representation of how we should all behave - giving without expecting anything in return, because we see a need, or want to let someone know that someone does care. (Santa is Spanish for Saint, so it's not even totally at odds with the Christian side of the Christmas celebrations.) Add to that, there were, historically, in various countries, if you believe the legends/stories, some mysterious generous individual who left gifts anonymously, in honor of the Christmas season.
I can't honestly tell my kids he isn't real, because we've been recipients of someones kindness and generosity more than once, without having any idea who had left us the gifts. I'm happy not knowing who it really was, because it doesn't matter. It was done in the spirit of Christmas, therefore, Santa left the gifts.

One year, when the boys were in grade school, they did confront me with "there isn't a Santa", I responded with a quote I like: "When you stop believing in Santa, you get underwear for Christmas". And then proceeded to take down the stockings, since they wouldn't be needing those. The remark was quickly rescinded, and Christmas continued as per usual. Since that time, we have discussed the "Santa concept" many times, and I think my boys have come to think of it in a similar way. (There was that one discussion in which one of them was mocking me for thinking there was really some guy in a red suit that traveled around the world in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, but I explained my reasoning as best I could, and I'm pretty sure that twin stopped thinking mom was cracking up. I think.)

By far the funniest Santa explanation I've heard comes from Bil Lepp (my hands-down favorite story teller ever). He was driving around town with his young son in the car, and passed a house that had one of those huge blow-up Santa's, of the variety that has a fan blowing the air in all the time, in the front yard. It was daytime, though, and the Santa was splayed out flat on the lawn, because the fan was off. His son asked if Santa was dead. He's a good dad, he couldn't let the boy believe that, so he said "no, he comes back to life at sundown", which is generally when folks will turn on their fan-blown yard ornaments. It was real quiet in the back seat, for a bit longer than Bil was comfortable with, and he was starting to worry about what his son was thinking. His son finally says, "dad, is Santa a vampire?" Well, like I said, he's a good dad, so of course he said, "yes, son, Santa's a vampire." Bil claims this works like a charm for getting good behavior, and getting the child to go to bed early Christmas Eve. He just goes in the bedroom with some garlic and starts putting it in a circle around the child's bed, assuring him that it will protect him, as long as he stays in that circle.
To tell the truth, I can see the merits of that explanation. He never ages, despite being around for hundreds of years. The cold doesn't seem to bother him. He "moves impossibly fast" delivering toys in record time all over the world, and seems to know what we most want to find under the tree, as well as being irresistible, drawing us to him just by being who he is. I don't know about you, but I see some parallels here.

One last argument for allowing your sweet children to believe in Santa (and other fantastical creatures): a family I babysat for in my teens had done the bit about raising their kids without Santa, on the grounds that it was a lie. They now regret that decision, because they realized, after the kids were grown, that they had taken some of the magic out of their childhood. All the kids, at some point in their teens, had asked their parents why they had done that, and said they'd wished they'd been allowed to believe.

I think we could all use a little magic in our lives. But you can make your own decision.

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