(Posted in the O.C. Register-12/20/13)
Christmas through the eyes of children is a magical experience. The perspective changes, however, when your child grows into a suspicious tween who's been getting mixed reports at school, or a full blown teenager who's got it all figured out. In my house it's challenging to manage the various versions of truth and belief circulating within.
My sweet and innocent youngest is beyond excited. He has revised his letter to Santa at least ten times. It's ready for the the mail, but he has some concerns about the reliability of the United States Postal Service.
"Mommy, don't you think Cocoa and Frosty could deliver my very important list to Santa faster than the mailman?" (Cocoa and Frosty are our "Elf-on-the-Shelf" elves.) When I agree to elf-delivery, the light in his eyes is completely contagious.
My middle, on the other hand, is distraught. He has come to tears more than once in the last month. Ever since he watched the movie "Guardians" (a must-see, by the way) with a friend who knew the wiser, he has been teetering on the edge of a painful reality, still frantically hoping the rumors are false.
"I don't want it to be true, mom. I want to still believe in Santa."
Per his request, I have neither confirmed nor denied the big man's existence. But I wish more than anything that I could erase his sadness and recover the lost innocence from this part of his childhood. It's heartbreaking.
My oldest is happily aware. She knows her dad and I are the Santa stand-ins and she's fine with it. In my opinion the rite of passage was perfectly timed. She actually made it to adolescence with her magical belief system completely intact. She even lost all of her baby teeth believing in the tooth-fairy. Lucky her! "Don't worry mom. I'll still pretend for the boys," she assures me.
Don't misunderstand me, our children know that, first and foremost, we celebrate Jesus' birth at Christmas-time. But during this season of transition, when their different beliefs are painfully apparent, I want them to know that Santa is more than just a list-collecting, chimney-hopping, gift-giver. He is a teacher. His job is powerful and real. Santa shows children how to believe in something they cannot see. Children need this ability for all of their lives: to believe in themselves, or in a cause, or in their friends, or in their future. This capacity to believe also extends to immeasurable things such as hope, faith and love.
Even though this year mine is a house divided, when the time comes, I want my children to understand why we waited as long as possible to reveal ourselves as Santa's helpers. Year after year, we delight in their sweet faces, lit with joy, when they discover the presents he's delivered. We are also eternally grateful for the intangible gift that he has given them: the gift to BELIEVE. This gift, after all, will last long into adulthood and one day, they will carry on the tradition of weaving magic and love and hope and joy into the Christmas season for their own children. And so, the magic lives on.