Sunday, December 09, 2012

We Believe

I learned the truth about Santa's existence when I was 9 years old and in the 4th grade.  In so many respects, I was an immature 9 year old but in one respect I was 9 going on 39 and that had to do with reading material.  So it was that I was reading my mother's McCall's magazine and I came across an article entitled "How to tell your child the truth about Santa Claus."  The truth?  Horrified, I read on.  Turns out that my parents had been playing Santa.   Though I surely must have had some inkling, what I most remember from the experience was the crushing sense that Santa wasn't real.  I wasn't disheartened by the lie so much as terribly sad to say good bye to Santa's mystery and the excitement that believing had brought me.

As a parent, I found the notion of Santa powerfully real again.  I relished the role and cherished JT's sense of Santa's magical charm.  In some of my darker moments as a mama on her own, it was the satisfaction of playing Santa that saw me through.  JT's belief in Santa was powerful and real.  I remember one year when he announced that he didn't need to make a Christmas list "because Santa knows my brain."  Each year, I'd acquire a collection of items just perfect for my boy and his imagination.  I'd plan every detail and relish the late-night Christmas Eve set-up.  I'd love the excitement of Christmas morning viewed from my boy's thrilled vantage point.  So I encouraged him to believe.  I didn't go of of my way to develop elaborate scenarios, instead relying on his own own fanciful imagination to sustain the magic.  And sustain it he did.  Year after year, JT believed.  

After awhile, I began to worry about how to let him know the truth about Santa.  I remembered how sad I was to learn that Santa wasn't real.  I was hoping for JT to have a more gentle realization about the man in red.  But I was unsure how to get there and I wasn't quite ready to give up the magic a second time.

Earlier this year, at the ripe old age of nearly 12, JT tentatively admitted to me that he no longer believes in Santa Claus.  He seemed almost afraid to tell me, as if he didn't want to shatter my belief.  Then he asked if we could still pretend that Santa was real.   "Because it's so exciting," he said.  "Yes," I answered though I have to admit that I was a little sad to let go of this vestige of childhood.

As the holiday season neared, JT began to ask questions about how I played Santa.  And so I have unravelled for him stories of secret gifts and late-night construction of Playmobil wonders.  

I've had the chance to tell him how much I enjoyed planning surprises and watching his Christmas morning excitement.  We've laughed about some moments, especially the year we were driving home from singing carols on Christmas Eve and heard a radio story that Santa was already in New Jersey.  In the backseat of the car, JT began to panic that Santa would skip our house.  But if Santa was in New Jersey early that year, he waited until JT was asleep to stop by our home.

Last week, JT told me that a friend of his who hasn't believed in Santa for several years frequently tried to get my boy to see the truth.  However, instead of accepting the logic of the friend's arguments, JT opted for the richness of his imagination, steadfast in his confidence that Santa existed.  

While I feared that our first post-Santa Christmas season would be a little bittersweet, it has instead been one filled with rich and happy memories of Santa, of the joy of giving, and the magic in believing.  In an interview I read a few weeks back, Ken Noda, thinking about the power of imagination in children, said something that has lingered with me as JT and I have been talking about the power of Santa in our lives.  To paraphrase a bit, Noda says that a child's imagination must be replenished with experience as he matures into adulthood.  

This year's post-believing Christmas proves the truth of Noda's lesson, as JT explores the ways in which he loved believing in Santa.  He's finding that Christmas traditions can still be magical and fun; that Santa is as much an ideal as a real person.  Together, we're finding new and wonderful ways to believe.

Note: In order, the pictures above come from Christmas morning in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.  The final two come from Christmas tree shopping and setting up in 2012.

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