Getting a bit carried away playing submarines in the tub the other night, Jack created quite a lake on the bathroom floor. After a raised eyebrow reminder from me about where the bathwater should stay, he helped me mop it up. “Oh, boy,” he said, “I guess I’d better watch what I do and stay off the Naughty List. I don’t want Santa to give me coal for Christmas!”
In the world of parenting, opinions about what to tell kids about Santa differ greatly. Some moms and dads live it up as long as possible, taking the kids to see the Big Guy every year at the mall and leaving milk, cookies and carrots out on Christmas Eve. Others argue that telling children about a fictitious gift giver is tantamount to lying. Perhaps it is. But as with all other matters in parenting, each family must make their own decision about how to approach the question of whether to believe or not to believe.
Ryan and I chose to embrace the magic as long as possible. Yes, we wait in line at the mall with the kids, their letters to Santa clutched firmly in their little hands. Maggie piles cookies and carrots on the Santa plate every year, and we’ve even arranged for phone calls from Santa. I guess I believe that childhood is so fleeting, so why not allow them the fun of Santa Claus and all the wonder and curiosities that go along with him?
When I was a little girl, my dad was always the last one in the car when we were leaving for the Christmas Eve church service. “Oh! I left the lights on downstairs!” he would declare, as he dashed back into the house. The older I got, the more I realized that it took him an awfully long time to hit a few light switches. It’s a bit of an effort to arrange Christmas gifts around the tree for 11 kids, I guess. When we arrived home after church, Santa had stopped. How did he get in with no chimney to slide down? Santa’s Magic Skeleton Key, my dad explained. But why hadn’t he eaten the cookies we’d left him? “I think Santa was hoping for beef jerky or a Snickers bar.”
Last year Maggie hit me with a similar barrage of questions. “Y’know, I mailed Santa a letter and I haven’t heard anything back from him,” she told me, disappointed and a tad bit disillusioned one evening. Oh, dear. We can’t have that! So I put my creative skills to work to create letters from Santa for the kids. But they were wise to my handwriting, having questioned a note left by the Tooth Fairy earlier in the year, and Maggie is astute enough to think that Santa probably shouldn’t be cranking out letters to kids on a computer printer. In her letter to Santa, she asked for confirmation of his handwriting style, so as to rule me out. So, I hauled out and dusted off an old calligraphy book, dug out the calligraphy pens I still had from the days when I had tried my hand at fancy lettering, and went to work. Some shimmery paper, decorative overlay paper, and fancy ribbons were pulled together to craft a North Pole worthy missive. And did I still have it?! Why, yes I did! Years before, a friend had gifted me with a sealing wax set that included a royal looking “S” brass seal. Lucky me, Susan and Santa both start with S, and the set came complete with festive glittery red King’s sealing wax. Santa surely would finalize his letters by affixing his official fancy Santa seal to a pool of hot Christmassy red wax, right?
It’s times like this that I count myself fortunate to live in a small town. I know the postmistress by first name and she’s always cheerful and friendly. We headed downtown to run a few errands on a Saturday morning, and while Ryan had the kids in the bakery, I dashed over to the post office to ask her if she could tuck the letters behind the front counter and give them to the kids when we came in a few minutes later. She was more than happy to be part of Operation Santa’s Letters.
I joined Ryan and the kids, and after donuts and juice, we made our way to the post office for Christmas stamps. “Oh! Maggie and Jack are here!” the postmistress said. “The Polar Express stopped by last night and I think I have something here for you two!” The kids’ faces lit up with excitement. They’d never received a parcel or letter at the post office, and certainly never anything from the Polar Express!
“Here you are!” she said, handing them the envelopes. Gasps of wonder and glee bubbled up from them both. “Mommy! It’s a letter from Santa! From SANTA! Look at the handwriting! That’s certainly not YOUR handwriting! It’s waaaay too fancy!”
“Look at the S on the back, Maggie! Woah!” cried Jack.
Postal patrons looked on with smiles, chuckling at the kids’ reactions and winking at me.
Jack ripped into his while Maggie was careful to preserve her seal. They read through Santa’s messages and hopped around, excited that Mr. Claus had cared enough to write to them personally.
It makes me so happy to see the kids so exuberant and excited. Maybe it’s misleading, and maybe, as some parents say, it’s just flat out lying. But I’m a pretty firm believer that as we get older, reality has a way of chipping away at our childlike wonder and excitement at the world. I hope that when the day comes that they know Santa isn’t real, that they’ll appreciate the great lengths mom and dad went to create and continue the magic.
And just yesterday, Maggie pointed out, “Mommy, Santa hasn’t written back to me yet. Do you think he will?”
Maybe she’s old enough to know, and just doesn’t want to let go of the fun. Maybe she truly does still believe in Jolly Old St. Nick. Regardless, I’ve dug out my fancy Christmas paper, my calligraphy pens, ribbons and sealing wax. I think Saturday morning might just have to include a stop by the post office…