Okay, I promised yesterday to tell you all why we keep the magic of the holiday alive. I promised to tell you why I still believe in the magic of Christmas, why I still believe in Santa. I guess I should keep that promise, shouldn’t I?
Back when I was a kid, I have no idea how old, I remember one Christmas particularly well. It’s my favorite Christmas memory, though one would imagine I’d remember my age exactly! I’m sure my sister could tell you. She’s always been good at that. It was the most magical Christmas ever.
Every year “Santa did well by us” as people would always tell us. I have no idea how many toys we’d each get, but it seemed like it was a ton. The whole bottom of the tree was filled with presents. Everything we wanted was there most years. I never wondered how my parents figured it out. It wouldn’t be hard for my mom to stalk my sister and I to see what we’d play with most or what we were drooling over in catalogs. She could always tell. There was no need for a Christmas list. I rarely wrote a letter to Santa, if ever. When I found out Santa “wasn’t real” I wasn’t heartbroken. I just wanted to keep the secret alive for my sister so I never breathed a word about it. I didn’t feel the need to question my mom, though she did fill it all in when I was older. She’d shop while we were at school and would hide everything away, starting from the moment all the Christmas bills were paid off. That’s how she was able to afford so much on such a tiny budget. She spread it out through the year, caught sales when they happened, and was always ready, even if she wouldn’t be able to buy more presents later in the year.
That year, though I “knew” Santa wasn’t real, I kind of expected the big hoard of presents under the tree. It’s not like I felt like I deserved them or was entitled to a whole bunch of presents. I would have just been surprised if there were only two or three things. We always got some pretty awesome things from our family. My aunts got me some of my favorite books. My uncle got my sister and I computers and printers and things. Santa’s domain was always toys and sometimes games.
Every year my sister and I got up really early to see the presents under the tree. We would generally get up before the sun and look at the tree from the outside of the French door to the living room. We’d look at the sparkling tree, all the beautiful presents, and the stockings. It was tradition. We’d sit there and talk about it all quietly, trying to imagine what everything was until we couldn’t take it anymore, then we’d go wake up our parents so we could dig into the presents.
Unlike previous years my sister and I got to the French doors, peeked in, and stopped dead in our tracks. We turned around and ran to our parents room shouting “Mommy! Mommy! You have to come see!” I can imagine it was an early morning for my parents that year but somehow I don’t think my mom could complain, not really.
You see, that year I remember making several trips to the teddy bear store a few towns over. It was one of those little specialty shops. They sold collector’s teddy bears. Each Christmas we’d stop in to see what was there. My mom would buy the Christmas outfit for Muffy VanderBear. I remember at least a couple years when she would also pick up the Muffy Vanderbear Holiday Bear (the link is to one of the holiday bears my mom actually had). We had the tree topper angel and everything. My mom would pace her spending as she did with everything else, so we’d go back several times to make these purchases. Sometimes my mom also bought presents for her sisters from this shop as my aunts were also bear collectors. Sometimes my mom would even go in just to visit.
In particular my mom would visit with one collectible that year. It wasn’t a bear, but a brown mohair bunny with a white stomach and a beautiful face. He was probably about 16″ tall and fully jointed. My mom wanted him so bad but she said she’d have to come back for it. There was no way we could afford it at Christmas time. She had to think about other things. I remember the look of almost concentration on her face as she looked him over, like she was trying to memorize every detail and debate whether or not she could justify bringing him home that visit. It was a classic expression that she wore when looking at her bears.
To understand this, I guess there’s something you’ve got to understand about my mom. I rarely heard her laugh or smile, not unless she was out with her sisters or a good friend. She always seemed so serious and sometimes even sad. She had a way of seeming like she was appraising everything. I always hated when she wore that mask of disappointment, but I hated her fake smile while she poked and teased even more. I honestly think she didn’t know how to tell my sister and I that she loved us, so she did the best she could to offer us every advantage she could afford and then bought us things to express how much she loved us.
Buying things didn’t replace everything. I have memories of making cookies with her, of going to the reservoir to swim (though she always sat in the shade and worked on cross stitch projects so we much preferred when our dad took us). We never lacked for holiday music this time of year. She’d go out of our way to take us to see the Christmas lights. We got to go out to eat more often than a lot of kids we knew, even if it was just McDonald’s. As much as I have memories of her doing something while watching us play or reading, watching television, or playing video games while we did our own thing, I have no lack of memories of doing things with my mom. Actually, I have a lot of memories of doing things with my mom, sometimes with Girl Scouts too, or with my aunts. I think she didn’t see those kinds of things as showing us she loved us. I think she saw all of that as just being a mom. Showing us love came in the form of purchases.
Because my mom viewed buying us things as her expression of love we got used to not seeing her view things she loved with the classic signs of enjoyment. Instead we got used to that appraising look, and that hint of something I could only explain as sadness. You could always tell how deep that sense of desire went by how many times she picked the item up and put it back down determining that she shouldn’t be spending the money on herself.
One day we went to the store and the bunny was gone. I told my mom that they might get another one after Christmas, seeing how heartbroken my mom was, another feeling she didn’t express openly. She explained that they wouldn’t get another. That’s how things go with limited edition bears. They only send out so many to each store. Once they were sold, that was it. Chances are this store had only gotten one.
This store held many fond memories for our family. It was nothing special, just some little textiles building that was converted into a shop. I remember seeing all the bears stacked on shelves in the warehouse portion behind the display shelves. I remember them pulling out specific bears for us. I remembered going there every Christmas and looking at all the beautiful bears. After that day I never looked at the store the same way again. It was always tainted with that note of sadness after that point.
I’m sure you can tell where this story is going and why my sister and I ran screaming to get my mother. Stuffed in my mom’s stocking the way you always see it in Christmas movies, pushed in to the armpits, arms hanging out, was that brown bunny with the perfect expression on his face. We were so surprised that we just had to go tell her. It couldn’t possibly wait. I didn’t think my dad even knew about the rabbit, so I was starting to think that maybe there was some magic to Christmas after all.
My mom gave my dad that disapproving look that I hated so much. “Oh Al,” she said, “We really couldn’t afford it.” My dad protested that it was from Santa. My mom protested. She swore that it had to have been him again and again with that disapproving frown. Each time he denied it and swore Santa must have brought it. He never said he didn’t bring it, only that Santa had. To this day he still denies it was him.
Looking back on it I’ve come up with any number of ways it could have been done. Maybe my dad asked my aunts what my mom would want. The bear store knew us pretty well so maybe he’d gone in looking for a present for my mom and they told him exactly what to get. Maybe he heard my mom talking about it, or maybe she even told him. He squirreled away money so my mom wouldn’t notice it was gone, then he went and bought it for her. Waiting for her to fall asleep, he planned where it would be. Once she was out he snuck out of bed to stick the rabbit in the stocking and crept back to bed with no one ever having been the wiser. That’s my favorite rendition at least.
After that I truly believed Santa was real. Sure, maybe he’s not some jolly old fat man in a red suit with reindeer that fly. It’s possible Santa is everywhere, in every parent that buys their children gifts each Christmas in keeping the spirit alive, in every person that buys the perfect gift and refuses to take credit, in everyone who keeps the spirit alive. I don’t think letting my kids believe in Santa is lying. I haven’t told them that Santa sneaks down our chimney (not that we have one). I can agree that he’s a big, jolly, ole’ fat man, but I never tell them that’s THE Santa that brings their Christmas presents. When the kids ask how the presents get here and how Santa knows what to get them, I either say I tell Santa or I say it’s magic. Really, it all depends on who is embodying the spirit of Santa that year, me or Oz! The kids have never thought to ask questions that would force me to tell them that Santa wasn’t real, and just like my dad I intend to creatively answer the question every time.
I guess in a way my dad told the truth. In that moment he was Santa. Oz is Santa. I am Santa. For us it’s more important that the kids have a magical experience and find fantastic gifts sitting under the tree from them. It’s more fun to let them believe in the magic than to take the credit. There’s never a question of which parent buys them a better gift or who knows them better. Instead they’re caught up with the mystery of what Santa will bring. After all that excitement all the things they get seem to fall into perspective, well, aside from gifts from Corde and Beekee’s dad. I’ll admit that I give him a gift every year too. I’ve always told him what the gift of the year for his kids will be so they can always associate their best Christmas presents with their father, even though they never see him. Oz and I try our hardest to surprise each other with gifts, but we always get too excited and have to break the news before Christmas because we just can’t wait to see that look of delight any more. Besides, Oz has a big problem with buying me gifts. He can’t wrap presents so he always ends up letting me wrap my own. He would just stick them under the tree without telling anyone anything, leaving them unwrapped, but I always insist on wrapping things. Besides, last year I picked out my own presents! This year Oz already got his present, so there goes half the fun. I’ve already picked out what I’m getting, so there goes that. At least we’ll have presents to surprise the kids with!
So that’s why I believe in Santa, and why I don’t believe telling my kids about Santa is lying to them. Santa isn’t just one person. He’s just the icon, the representation. Santa is the spirit of Christmas, the magic, and the mystery. Santa is that selflessness that allows a person to give without slapping their name on a gift just because they want to see the smile on someone’s face, especially when they know it’s the perfect present that the recipient had no way of being able to get on their own. That is Santa, and Santa is alive and well, at least in my family. Santa will likely never die.