It was to be our family’s first Christmas without Santa Claus and I was dreading it. For more than a decade we had kept the Santa secret, enjoying year after year of holiday magic with our two sons. But during the same year, both my boys discovered “the truth.”
I never told them Santa wasn’t real. In a carefully rehearsed presentation I explained to them that they were simply moving from one side of the “Santa Secret” to the other. From the side of the mystery of St. Nicholas to the side of being a part of the magic. Instead of believing in Santa, they would have the joy of becoming Santa for other little children, and someday for their own.
They bought it.
What I didn’t expect was the emptiness I felt as the holiday season approached. What would Christmas morning be like without Santa? It was as if someone had died.
Trying to muster the holiday spirit, I decided we’d “give back.” We volunteered at our local outreach center where my sons sorted and stacked canned goods that would become someone’s Christmas dinner. Amid the many volunteers, my guys looked like two little elves.
Still seeking to prove that there is joy in becoming Santa, we joined the efforts of Operation Christmas Child. The task – to fill shoeboxes with things a little boy might like, or as in the case of the children in Afghanistan, things they might need. We stuffed two shoeboxes with warm socks, crayons and paper, Matchbox cars and little footballs. My boys wrapped the presents and composed a letter from Santa to the children who would open them on Christmas morning.
We took part in our church’s Angel Tree program. We delivered a present for a child to the church office in exchange for the angel ornament we took from the church tree.
I still wasn’t convinced that Christmas at our house would hold any kind of magic, so I tried to compensate. I bought too many things for their stockings, wrapped their gifts in expensive wrapping paper and purchased a big foosball table, to be topped with a red bow that they would find on Christmas morning.
At least it would look like Santa had come.
I admit, Christmas morning moved a little slower than in years past. The boys’ sprint down the stairs was more of a jog this year. They smiled a knowing smile when they saw the foosball table, as if to say, “Thanks for the effort, Mom.”
But the magic moment was still to come.
After we’d opened all of our presents and emptied the stockings, my youngest, who was almost buried in the wrappings of my materialistic efforts, sat straight up.
“I wonder if they’ve opened them yet!” he said with wide-eyed excitement. At first I wasn’t sure what he meant. “I wonder if the little boy in Afghanistan has unwrapped his shoebox!” he repeated with an urgency that surprised me. “And the other boy from the Angel tree – I wonder if he’s awake yet!” he almost shouted, clearly filled with the euphoria of giving.
I had forgotten. I was so self-absorbed in OUR holiday that it had slipped my mind that we’d helped make Christmas merry for someone else. I thought of the mother who received the holiday food basket, the one with the canned goods my sons had sorted. Was she relieved to have something to put on her Christmas table today? A feeling of complete satisfaction enveloped me.
I looked back at my son who was gazing in wonder at the angel ornament on our tree. He had the same wistful expression I’d noticed in previous years as he waited for Santa. But this year, he was framed by an aura of peace and wisdom. And, as if by magic, the Christmas tree lights reflected in his eyes, making them twinkle. Just like Santa’s.
At that very moment, my little guy had moved from believing to becoming. He was no longer struggling with the mystery because now he was part of the magic. At that moment, my youngest son, whose name is Nicholas, became Santa Claus.
The year my boys discovered the truth about Santa Claus was the year I started believing again.