As I sit here, mere days from Christmas, I’m having trouble finding my Christmas spirit. The lights are still twinkly, the songs are still merry, but every time I see a Santa I want to cry - all because a young man no longer sees the myth of a man.
My oldest, known here as Bigfoot (due to his abnormally large feet for a 12 year old), came home from school in tears and finally asked in earnest, whether Santa Claus was real. The subject had been breached before, but this time was different and I was speechless. No amount of preparation is enough for that moment, despite what certain Pinterest pins may claim. So instead of a well-rehearsed speech or thoughtful letter, I winged it.
I tried to remember parts of the letters I’d read from better prepared parents telling their children there is no one Santa, he is love, he is Christmas spirit and lives inside all of us. What I said, however, was:
“Does it really matter whether he is real or not?”
Although he shook his head no, the next few minutes were spent backpedalling and attempting to persuade my beautiful boy it was okay that Santa wasn’t a real guy, he would still have a great Christmas, and not to tell his younger siblings the truth – that they would learn in time. I may have thrown in a few encouraging words about Christmas spirit and all that, but he still had tears in his eyes.
In the days since the reveal, the effect of the news doesn't seem to be weighing on him, even if it is on his mind. I, on the other hand, can’t stop thinking about it. I tried to watch a special on TLC called The Secret Santa – I got teary and changed the channel. Then I was watching the 2004 remake of Miracle on 34th St. and I lost it. All the kids were snug in their beds and mommy was curled up in herself, trying to keep the sound of her sobbing low so as not to wake them.
I don’t remember when I was presented with the truth about Santa. I suppose it was around his age. I don’t remember the feeling of heartbreak or betrayal at knowing that Santa didn’t exist, at least in the physical sense. All I can remember is the excitement of finally being able to participate in the sacred Christmas Eve festivities, for in my parents’ house that’s exactly what it was. The life-changing rite of Becoming Santa.
Being Santa is both rewarding and stressful, merry and miserable. Over the years, our family has been blessed with help when we needed it, both from strangers and kin alike. As parents we tell ourselves we’ll start early next year, but come December, we’re among the throng of procrastinators wishing we had kept that one resolution. The bills pile up as we tell ourselves certain things can wait if it means our children will have a merry Christmas. It’s joyfully exhausting.
And each year it is harder to stay awake on the Eve, fighting the steely resolve of wakeful children and the strain the holidays take on an already weary mind - sleep will wait for no human. And I am of the “sleep is life” persuasion. Christmas Eve in my house is not so much festive as frustrating, no matter how hard I try.
The thought brings to mind the classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Clark (Chevy Chase) wants so much to resurrect the Days of Christmas Past – the Christmases full of magic and cheer, the blissful contentment, the perfect Christmas, but every attempt results in some sort of failure. While watching it happen to the Griswold’s is hilarious, one of my top 5 Christmas movies, sometimes parallels can be drawn.
So I've concluded there is no such thing as a perfect Christmas, except in the mind. And while I have entered the years of adult revelations and unintentional growing up, I power on. If all I can muster is a simple smile to brighten my child’s day, then I will smile even as my inner walls cave in.