What is the meaning of Christmas anyway? Is it a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ?
The birth of Santa Claus?
The birth of excessive spending?
Not being raised with any particular religion, I have always been a little unclear on the concept of Christmas, and I think I am passing that confusion right on to my own kids. I mean Santa came and everything, don’t get me wrong. He even left hand-written notes in their stockings, which were tucked in with a pile of carefully wrapped gifts, next to the tropical houseplant we had converted into a Carribean Charlie Brown Christmas tree. We couldn’t bear to buy a plastic tree, and of course we couldn’t go out into the woods and chop one down, so there it was. As I burned the edges and wrote the notes in my best calligraphic hand, I wondered why I was pretending to be an overweight old man in a red fur outfit anyway.
When on or around December 22nd, Nicole spied a shiny pink bicycle hidden in Junie’s closet, she came running to me, eyes happy and sparkling, and said, “Hey! Santa brought me a bike!”
My reply was right out of Gentle Honest Parenting 101. “You aren’t supposed to be in Dad’s closet, get out of there! ” I barked, inner panic ensuing. She found us out. Seeing the fierceness in my eyes, her sparkle started to dim. When I said, “That bike isn’t for you anyway, it is for a kid at school, we have to deliver it to her. It’s not yours.” Poof. The sparkle had vanished completely.
“What’s her name?” she asked. “The girl whose bike it is?”
Without missing a beat, I said
“You’re lying.” she said. She looked at me point blank and demanded “Tell me, is Santa real?”
I launched into a conversation about how he is a symbol of love and generosity, and about the miracle of magic that exists within all of us.
She went running up the stairs to corroborate this information with her sixteen year old brother.
“Elias! Santa is just a symbol! Like a heart!” I could tell she was ok with that information, but on a visceral level, she knew she was supposed to be disappointed. She found some tears to demonstrate her allegiance to the idea of Santa, and big brother comforted her to say yes, Santa is real. He had remembered the magic as a young child, and did not want to see her lose the magic at the tender age of seven.
He pieced back the sparkle and returned it to her eyes, vaguely and strategically cradling the myth protectively back into her heart.
As uncomfortable as I feel with the lying piece of the Santa fable, I distinctly remember feeling gypped of the magic. Our parents couldn’t handle the lying piece at all, so they told us straight up, it is just a story, there is no Santa Claus, period. I tried to gain some power back to fill this loss when I was about seven or eight by corralling my neighbor in the stairwell and telling her “There is no such thing as Santa Claus, Jeannie. It is a lie.” She was crestfallen, and I didn’t understand why. But I do remember feeling as though I was missing out on something special. I wanted to feel crestfallen at the news, too.
As parents, we are continually guiding the fragile vessel that carries our childrens’ lives. We can only hope we are steering it in the right direction, giving the right advice, telling the best stories, guiding it in the way we think is best at each given moment. It is what we can do. Eventually, they will take the oars and paddle it in the way they see fit. Maybe they have been holding the oars all along. Maybe the reality is that we have no control over where or how the boat goes, how the buds will unfold,
what their lives will offer them.
We don’t know what type of magic and possibilities might come along,
who and what will end up settling in to stay,
and which parts of their vessel they will have to work tooth and nail to scrub off.
So on this, our first Christmas day in Port of Spain, we had finished the Santa activities, played with some of the Christmas toys, read some of the Christmas books, and packed our gear up to head out to what is the closest thing to church that we have found here. We planned to take a hike through the jungle path that leads to the Maracas Waterfall.
As we began our drive, we quickly realized that a hike was not in our future, due to the steady gray drizzle of rain that did not look like it was going to stop.
So, we rode around the city rather aimlessly, and took it all in. While the kids dozed off, Junie drove, and I did some drive by shootings with my camera.
Merry Christmas everyone.
May we always remember to see and take in the magic our lives have to offer, whatever form it may take.
When you can’t find the magic, take the pieces that are coming undone and tie them together,
however you need to,
until you feel the sparkle in your eyes returning.