You never think it will happen to you. I paused. I gulped. I looked around, and then down, into the earnest, twinkle-eyed face of my darling 9-year-old daughter as she uttered those words that strike fear into a parental heart:
“Mommy, is Santa Claus real?”
This is like “that talk” you know you are going to have to have with your kids some day and hope to put off indefinitely — until they are, say, 30?
Stop believing early
I’ve always known some kids stop believing early. I hear tales of 6-year-olds already convinced there is no magic. Santa is no longer cool. His credibility is lost at a much younger age.
Where children as old as 12 used to still believe, the loss of innocence happens during the early years these days.
Worse yet, the Nativity story is barely known. So if the story is lost, the meaning is lost. And we have a generation of children growing up believing the true purpose of Christmas is material gain and Santa is simply employed by the mall.
I’ll admit I struggled with Christmas this year. I feel in my heart it is likely — probably — the last year we will put out cookies for Santa and carrots for reindeer.
There will be no more not-so-thinly veiled threats of “you know who” watching, and blind obedience on the part of my children from Thanksgiving through Christmas Day either.
There will be no infinite possibilities of wish lists, only the base reality of wants versus economics. So if the magic is gone. What now?
As a result, this year, for the first time, I have become more than a little cynical about the whole thing.
I got so wrapped up in the “must-do’s” that I forgot the “fun do’s” like cookie baking and ended up having to buy cookies for our son’s class party rather than sending home baked goodies we’d made together ourselves.
This, of course, means I might as well hire a skywriter to write “loser slacker mom who buys treats and SHE DOESN’T EVEN WORK” in huge letters over the school for all the other, handier mommies to see.
As crafty friends discussed the economic and emotional wisdom of replacing pricey gifts with heartfelt gifts like sweet little jars with layered ingredients for chocolate chip cookies or homemade hot cocoa, I was heard to mutter the only thing I was going to put in cute layer jars were Prozac and gin.
No cards this year from us either. I let others send gorgeous photo cards of their little ones they whipped up on their computers or scrapbook tables this year.
I was like one of those old curmudgeons making excuses and saying “in my day we had to hand draw our children on rocks and throw them at the people we love …”
And yet, looking back, I realize the greatest gift I received this season was the realization even if there isn’t anything I can do to change the way the world is approaching Christmas, I can change my attitude.
I know I can never go back to the magic of my childhood Christmases, or even those earliest years for my children — but perhaps there is a way to make my own magic again.
We can spend more time together and spend less money on “things.” Whether we bake or buy our cookies — we can do it together with generous helpings of love and a dollop of laughter to sweeten the treats — and the memories, too.
We can go look at holiday lights, or play in the snow — for free! We can snuggle up together and watch schmaltzy holiday movies with endings that are as predictable as post-holiday sales, but a lot happier too.
And we can know what I told my own darling girl — that all Christmases are special if you believe in your heart that this is so.
That if you are blessed to spend Christmas in the presence — or at least the hearts — of loved ones, these are the magic times and the wonder and the memories will keep giving back to you year after year.
That if you believe in the power of faith, family and good friends, you have all the magic and wonder and gifts you’ll ever need, and you can keep more cookies and carrots for yourself, too.